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Higher Education Enrollment Drops Across All Sectors on Average

May 17, 2013

The National Student Clearinghouse (NSC) has released a sobering report on higher education enrollment trends over the last three years. Fall 2012 enrollment was down 1.8 percent from the year before and Spring 2013 enrollment fell 2.3 percent from the prior year for all sectors of higher education.

The most current enrollment data from Spring 2013 has been analyzed by institutional characteristics such as region and sector as well as student characteristics such as part-time or full-time status of students, age, and gender.

Analysis of percent change of enrollment from Fall to Spring over the last three years shows that the fall attrition rate (including attrition related to graduation, stop-out, drop out, and new spring enrollment) has been growing for the past three years. The change in enrollment from Fall 2010 to Spring 2011 was -4.4 percent, and grew to -5.4 percent from Fall 2012 to Spring 2013.

Enrollment in postsecondary education by region (Midwest, Northeast, South, and West) shows falling enrollment from spring 2013 to spring 2012 in every region of the country.. The largest one-year loss of 2.6 percent was in the Midwest; the second largest was in the South at 2.2 percent. The Northeast represents the smallest loss in 2013 at -0.9 percent, but is the only region with three consecutive years of lost enrollment.

Enrollment changes are impacting every sector of higher education. The one-year change in enrollment from Spring 2012 to Spring 2013 shows that two year-public institutions lost 3.6 percent of students, and four-year public institutions lost 1.1 percent. The for-profit sector saw the steepest declines at -8.7 percent while four-year, private, nonprofit institutions were the only sector to have flat enrollment at 0.5 percent.

Both full-time and part-time students have falling enrollments across all sectors from 2012 to 2013 (-2.7 percent and -1.6 percent, respectively). These losses are not exclusive to just 2012-2013. Two different age groups in the study - those traditionally aged 24 and under and those over 24 - are both on the decline. In 2013 there were 3.6 percent fewer students over age 24, and 1.4 percent fewer traditionally aged students than the year before.

The NSC's data has a marked advantage over Integrated Postsecondary Education Data System in that it is the most current enrollment data, as member institutions send their data several times per year and represent 95 percent of Title IV institutions. The Clearinghouse also has an advantage in that they can filter out students that may be enrolled in more than one institution, thus giving a unduplicated headcount. NSC reports that students that are enrolled at more than one institution make up approximately 2 percent of total enrollment.

The report is available from the National Student Clearinghouse Web site.


Natalie Pullaro Davis
Manager, Research and Policy Analysis