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New Report Looks at Impact of Recession on College-Going

Despite the recession from December 2007 to June 2009, college enrollment increased, and more students were drawn to community colleges, according to a new report.

The South experienced the greatest boost among high school students going to college, and even private colleges weren't hit particularly hard, with enrollment remaining steady.

The report, "National Postsecondary Enrollment Trends: Before, During and After the Great Recession," published by the National Student Clearinghouse Research Center, looks at the pattern of first-time students ages 17-20 who began in the fall semester each year from 2006 thought 2010. While many of the expected trends were confirmed, the shift in the higher education landscape was not that pronounced given the dive the economy took in 2008 and 2009.

Among the report's highlights:

-Enrollments of new students on college campuses from 2006 to 2010 rose by 6.8 percent, from just under 2 million to a total of 2.14 million.

-Public institutions experienced an increase in enrollment in every year, except 2010.

-Private colleges also had a steady flow of new students, accounting for about 20 percent of higher education enrollment, despite the higher price tag that some anticipated would hurt their numbers.

-The enrollment trend within public institutions appeared to fluctuate most in the two-year sector, with an increase of 8.3 percent from 2008 to 2009 and a dip of 5 percent from 2009 to 2010. Still, the overall net gain from 2006 to 2010 was more than 9 percent.

-More traditional-age college students were drawn to community colleges. These institutions became increasingly popular for students as a means of saving money. They attracted high school graduates who might otherwise have joined the workforce and students who might have chosen a more expensive four-year school if the economy were better.

-The economy did not appear to affect students staying in school. There were no significant drops in retention rates (the rate at which students who begin at one institution and continue at the same school from year to year), which were about 63 percent, or in persistence rates (a broader measure of students' continued enrollment within higher education), which hovered around 77 percent.

-The South enrolled the largest number of traditional-age first-time students across the years, followed by the Midwest, the West, and the Northeast.

Among traditional-age students, the report concludes, college-enrollment surges in the recent recession have not been as great as many previously feared. What changes that did occur were largely the result of increases in community college enrollment, particularly in the Western and Southern states.

New-student enrollment has been relatively stable during the Great Recession because of increases in the number of high school graduates, student demand for places in the more costly institutions, and possibly the institutions' enrollment-management strategies, the researchers suggested.

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