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College Enrollment Dips, But Completion Rises in U.S.

New numbers out from the U.S. Department of Education show a slight drop in college enrollment last year, but an increase in degree attainment.

In 2011-12, there were 1.6 percent fewer students attending the nation's colleges and universities than the year before, a decline from 29.5 million to 29 million, according to a First Look report released Wednesday by the National Center for Education Statistics. In the same period, the number of degrees granted by those institutions was up 5.1 percent.

Last week, the National Student Clearinghouse reported 2.3 percent fewer students enrolled on campuses this spring compared with 2012. The clearinghouse showed a decline of 1.8 percent in the fall of 2012 over the fall of 2011.

The NCES data reveal that public two-year colleges suffered the largest drop in enrollment, down about 250,000 students, while private for-profits had 200,000 fewer students. Public four-year universities experienced an increase of 100,000 students, and private four-year college enrollment rose slightly.

Although the total student body was smaller, completion improved. There was an 8 percent increase in associate degrees earned (about 1 million total) and a 4.3 percent rise in bachelor's degrees awarded (1.8 million) in 2010-11 compared with the previous year.

The Department of Education reports in 2012-13 that there were 7,416 institutions of higher education participating in the Title IV federal financial aid program. Of those, 3,110 were four-year schools, 2,263 two-year colleges, and 2,043 less than two-year institutions.

Average tuition and required fees for full-time, first-time undergraduates at public institutions increased by about 7 percent to $7,500 for in-state students and $17,000 for out-of-state students. For-profit institutions reported average tuition and required fees of about $15,400 for 2012-13, a 2 percent increase over the previous year, according to the NCES report.

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