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Enrolment numbers for US colleges drop again

The US’ National Student Clearinghouse Research Centre has published new data that shows how enrolment at US colleges and universities is predicted to fall by 500.000 undergraduate students in the new academic year, a decline of 3.2%. Considering that enrolment dropped by 3.4% last year, the decline in the last two years would be the largest in half a century.

Tertiary education enrolment has been on a downward trend for almost a decade, but the coronavirus pandemic has further aggravated this, something that could result in very serious repercussions for the US’ economy, since fewer enrolments result in fewer graduates, and subsequently a generally less educated workforce. From the analysis of previous recessions, evidence shows that usually when the labour market is on a downward trend more people decide to sign up for college, since it is more difficult to find work. However, for the coronavirus crisis this does not seem to be the case, as numbers went down further instead of picking back up once fewer jobs became available.

Last year community colleges were the hardest hit, as their enrolment numbers dropped by 10%. This fall the decline is not as sharp, as it will be of around 5 percentage points. Other indicators, such as the declining number of students who fill out the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA), the financial aid form, seem to confirm this trend. The numbers are particularly worrying for schools whose students are not well off, and for colleges whose demographics are mainly black and Hispanic. More and more young people are going to work rather than signing up for tertiary education. It remains to be seen whether such individuals will decide to take on additional education later in life, and what further ramifications these decisions will have on the US economy.

The full report can be accessed here.