Perspectives

College/University Enrollments Go Down as Potential Students Question Value


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College and university student enrollments are in a downward spiral because of multiple factors including parents and students questioning the value of a college education, according to Dr. Richard Vedder, author, historian, columnist, and emeritus professor of economics at Ohio University.
Demographically, there is a decline in the number of traditional college eligible students born during a period of low fertility in America and the numbers are expected to get worse. The number of traditional 18-22 year old students will drop more than 15% between 2025 and 2029. Currently, we are in our seventh straight year of decline nationally.
Not only are there fewer students but students and parents are now questioning the value of higher education compared to the costs involved.
Dr. Vedder says there is a “flight to quality” – students want to get in the elite institutions of higher learning but if they can’t many do not see a lesser ranked college or university as a viable alternative.
Students look at the high costs of education, mounting student debt and balance that against the fact that 41.4 percent of college graduates are underemployed, according to Dr. Vedder.
College educated students are now doing jobs that were formerly done by those with lesser education and the earnings differential between college and high school graduates is now declining, Dr. Vedder adds.
In short, there are too many college graduates for the number of professional, managerial and technical jobs available.
Colleges and university who are most dependent on tuition as revenue will be hurt the worst by enrollment declines and Dr. Vedder says experts are noting that many universities will either close their doors or merge with other institutions over the next two decades.
He notes that universities have high labor costs and high fixed costs and those costs need to be met by enrollment driven tuitions and other fees. But, if students are not present more and more colleges and universities will find themselves in financial binds.
Some educators worry that colleges and universities have been too slow to recognize these trends and are lagging behind in innovations to increase the value of degrees.
Dr. Vedder is also a senior fellow at The Independent Institute and was a founding director of the Center for College Affordability and Productivity in Washington, D.C.