Here’s a puzzle. Enrollment continued to decline at public community colleges this 2014-15 academic year, but not so much at private, for-profit ones. Of course, the for-profit colleges offer not only two-year degrees, but also four-year and graduate ones too. But they’re both drawing from a similar pool of older, low-income students. So you’d expect these two types of institutions to experience similar trends.
The number of students at public community colleges has been declining for two good reasons. The first is demographics. Thanks to declining birth rates more than 20 years ago, the population of high school graduates has been steadily shrinking since 2010. That’s a smaller pool for colleges to draw from. The second is the economy. As businesses rebounded after the 2008 recession, so did hiring. Students older than 24 years, in particular, who make up almost 40 percent of community college students, are finding jobs and leaving school.
Add those two trends together and it’s easy to see why public two-year college enrollments fell 3.5 percent in the fall of 2014, compared with a year earlier, according to the National Student Clearinghouse Research Center. That’s after two previous years of decline of 3.3 percent and 3.6 percent, respectively. <Read more.>