According to the National Student Clearinghouse Research Center, overall college enrollment fell for the second year in a row in 2013 by about 1.5 percent – from about 20.2 million students in the fall of 2012 to about 19.9 million – with the total decrease over two years marking the first significant decline since the 1990s.

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Though 2013’s drop mostly affected for-profit and community colleges (down 9.7 and 3.1 percent) there is growing speculation that 2013-14 may be the year that traditional four-year institutions begin to see diminishing enrollments – a trend that could last several years. According to projections by the Western Interstate Commission for Higher Education, the number of people graduating from high school is set to dip down to a low of around 3.2 million students in 2014, and that number will not regain the highs seen in 2010-11 for another 10 years.


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According to a recent NYT article an improving economy may also set the stage for further declines, as many adults who went back to school during the recession have been able to return to the workforce. And in fact, this can already be seen, as the number of students over the age of 24 enrolling in college has decreased, falling 3.4 percent from last year.

What this means for you

As the numbers of graduating high school students drop, fewer prospective freshmen will be left to compete for more spots, and as colleges face declining enrollments, students’ admissions chances should increase. The NYT article suggests that though the most competitive colleges will remain largely unaffected, admissions at middle-tier institutions will most likely become less competitive.

Declining enrollments will probably impact tuition and financial aid as well. Colleges with fewer financial resources and less prestige are likely to be hit the hardest; not only will they face greater enrollment drop-offs, but because they have smaller endowments (and receive fewer donations from alumni) they are also more heavily dependent on tuition revenue to maintain their financial stability. Fearing that high prices and rising student loan debt will turn away applicants, many colleges have already resorted to deeper discounts and accelerated degree programs in order to maintain the flow of incoming tuition.

This May, no fewer than 288 colleges reported that they had leftover space, despite the fact that the official deadline for enrollment had passed – and many offered students tuition-based incentives in order to bridge the gap. These colleges range from large public institutions, such as the University of Maryland, to small private colleges such as Juniata College, which is included in the book Colleges That Change Lives. The NYT reports that, as colleges scrambled to fill empty spots, many reached out to students who had turned down their initial offers, as well as to some who had never even applied.

Another probable fallout is that colleges may increase the size of their waiting lists in order to safeguard themselves against increasingly unpredictable yields. This, in turn, could also mean that larger numbers of wait-listed students stand to be admitted.

For more information on college admissions, contact Collegiate Gateway. As always, we’re happy to help.