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College Enrollment Down Slightly, Report Finds

Overall enrollment in college is down slightly this fall, as fewer students are going to two-year, public and four-year, for-profit schools compared to the previous year.

The National Student Clearinghouse Research Center released a report Dec. 11 with the latest enrollment estimates. It found a total of 19.6 million students attended some kind of postsecondary institution in the fall of 2014, a drop of 1.3 percent from last year when it was 19.9 million and from 2012 when enrollment was 20.2 million.

Examining closely by sector, however, the report shows a growth in students going to public, four-year colleges (2.2 percent) and nonprofit, four-year instituions (1.6 percent). In the same period, public, two-year schools dropped by 6 percent and four-year, for-profits fell by .4 percent.

The nonprofit center based in Herndon, Va., found the decrease in college participation was greater for students over the age of 24 than under. The decline in matriculation was about even for men and women, as well as for part-time and full-time students.

Enrollments declined in 39 states and the District of Columbia, and increased in 11 states, with the largest increases seen in New Hampshire (19.9 percent) and Arizona (5.2 percent).

The center's numbers include 96 percent of enrollments at U.S degree-granting institutions.

Jason DeWitt, a research manager at the clearinghouse and author of the new report, said that the dip in enrollment can be traced to demographic shifts, as fewer numbers of students graduate from high school, and the economic recovery, which translates into more people working rather than pursuing a community college education. He cautions against educators being discouraged by the decline in overall enrollment, as college participation is still up in recent years when considering pre-recession gains.
"In spite of projected declines in the number of 18-24 year olds, along with five years of gradual declines in the unemployment rate, enrollments are still above 2008 levels," said DeWitt.
The report notes that part of the decrease at community colleges can be traced to institutions being reclassified as four-year institutions, as they begin to award bachelor's degrees. Taking that change into account, the decrease at two-year publics would have just been 3.4 percent and the growth at four-year publics .4 percent.

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