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Higher Education Enrollment Dips

After years of expansion, new numbers out from the federal government yesterday show a slight drop in overall college enrollment, with the for-profit sector and community colleges taking the biggest hits.

The First Look (preliminary data) report on fall 2011 postsecondary enrollment from the National Center on Education Statistics includes nearly 7,400 higher education institutions in the U.S. that are required to participate in the analysis to get federal student aid.

There were nearly 18.62 million undergraduates enrolled in college in 2011, compared with 18.65 million the previous year. Graduate students in this year's report totaled 2.93 million, down from 2.94 million in 2010.

Enrollment in degree-granting institutions increased by 11 percent between 1990 and 2000. It grew another 37 percent between 2000 and 2010 from 15.3 million to 21 million, according to the NCES. An analysis of students in fall 2010 reflects the beginning of a slowdown in enrollment growth.

The NCES reports the numbers, but does not cite any reasons for the drop off. Enrollment at Title IV institutions has steadily increased every year since 1996.

According to the new report, about 57 percent of students were enrolled in four-year institutions and 41 percent in two-year institutions.

Trends in enrollment varied by sector.

While the student body at four-year colleges grew by 1.2 percent, it fell at two-year schools by 2.4 percent.

Public institutions have the largest percentage of students, at 15.2 million, but enrollment in that sector dropped by .25 percent. Private nonprofit schools gained about 2 percent, to nearly 4 million students in fall 2011. For-profits lost nearly 3 percent, with 2.4 million now attending those institutions.

About 74 percent of college students in fall 2011 were attending full time and 26 percent part time.

The report includes a fresh snapshot of graduation rates.

About 59 percent of full-time, first-time students at four-year institutions in 2005 completed a bachelor's or equivalent degree within six years at the institution where they began their studies. That is up from 58 percent for the cohort that began in 2004.

NCES will release a final report based on this provisional data at the end of the year.

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