Sep 17, 2012

College Enrollment Continues Growing despite Questions about Value

While Newsweek puzzles over whether college is a “lousy investment,” postsecondary enrollment continues to boom.
According to numbers published in the 2012 Almanac of Higher Education, degree-granting colleges and universities enrolled more than 18 million undergraduate and nearly three million graduate students in 2010—up a total of more than 588,000 students over the previous year.
And the number of students entering college for the first time that year was 2.1 million, up 6.8 percent over 2006.
In other words, almost half of  those who completed high school are enrolled in higher education, as compared with roughly a third three decades ago. 
Today’s students are more diverse and less likely to go to college close to home, in part because public institutions are reaching across state lines for higher tuitions.
And no matter where they start, about a third of all undergrads switch institutions before earning a degree.  In fact, more than half transfer “in reverse,” to community colleges, possibly for lower tuition or the opportunity to get back on track with less challenging coursework.

To show who today’s undergrads really are, The Chronicle recently crunched numbers from the National Center for Education Statistics (NCES) and pulled in additional data from recently-published studies.
What they found isn’t too surprising to those of us who work with local college-bound high school students and routinely visit campuses all over the country.

In a nutshell, despite the ongoing debate over the value of education, “young people seemed to affirm its worth”—both in terms of enrollment statistics and polling data in which four in five young adults think college is “more important now” than it was for their parents.

Here are more of The Chronicle’s results:
  • 48% of young people who completed high school are enrolled in an institution of higher education
  • more young women (44%) enroll in higher education than young men (38%)
  • almost 20% of all freshmen are reported as first generation
  • nearly twice as many students were enrolled in the 20 largest public doctoral universities as were enrolled in the 20 largest private ones
  • students from public and private nonprofit colleges transferred at similar rates—34% and 32% respectively
  • among transfers from 4-year public institutions, over 50% chose a 2-year public institution
  • a third of this year’s freshmen intend to go on for a doctorate or a professional degree
  • overall, the share of underrepresented minorities enrolled in college was 28.4 percent
  • nearly half of new freshmen estimate their parent’s income at less than $75,000 per year

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