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New Survey Predicts Enrollment Will Hold Steady at Independent Institutions

August 11, 2009

A recent survey conducted the National Association of Independent Colleges and Universities (NAICU) has estimated that undergraduate enrollment at almost 300 four-year private, non-profit colleges and universities will rise by an average of 0.2 percent over fall 2008. Total student enrollment (undergraduate and graduate students combined) at participating institutions is projected to increase by 0.1 percent. The increase in enrollment comes despite the current economic recession being experienced in the United States, and in spite of a predicted 4.3% increase in fall 2009 undergraduate tuition and fee charges reported by an earlier NAICU survey. An estimated 504,000 first-time freshmen entered all independent colleges and universities in the United States in fall 2008, and total enrollment at these institutions was 3.7 million.

Increases in undergraduate enrollment will come from both new students and returning students. About 68 percent of survey participants predicted an increase or no change in new entering freshmen, and 74 percent expected no change or an increase in their numbers of returning undergraduates; about 77 percent reported that their numbers of transfer undergraduates would at least hold steady this year when compared with last year.

The vast majority of respondents (93 percent) credited increases in the Federal Pell Grant program with having a positive effect on their students and possibly helping to increase enrollment. From fall 2008 to fall 2009, the Pell Grant maximum award increased from $4,731 to $5,350. As a result of this increase and other factors, about three-quarters of responding institutions reported an increase in federal grants in students' financial aid packages. More students also appear to be receiving federal loans, as about half the responding institutions reported increases in the number of financial aid packages that included federal loans. In addition, three-quarters of respondents reported that they increased institutional aid awards over last year.

Independent colleges and universities took a variety of measures to increase their funding for institutionally funded aid. A few reported increasing their fundraising or withdrew more funds from their endowments. Approximately half of the responding institutions reported they froze salaries and new hiring. About 40 percent restricted staff travel and slowed down current construction and renovation projects. Approximately one-third delayed maintenance and gave smaller-than-usual increases in salary to faculty and staff.

It is important to note that projected and actual fall 2009 enrollment figures may differ more than in previous years, given the unusually unpredictable economic situation. NAICU plans to do another survey in order to better document the changes in enrollment at independent colleges and universities.

Go to the NAICU Web site to access the full survey results.


Ken Redd
Director, Research and Policy Analysis