Enrollment at American Colleges and Universities Continues to Decline

Overall enrollment at American colleges and universities has decreased by 1.7 percent since last year, according to a new report issued by the National Student Clearinghouse Research Center (NSCRC).

As of spring 2019, a total of 17,542,109 students were enrolled in US higher education — representing a broader downward trend over the past several years. The report’s findings are based on data submitted several times per semester by the vast majority of American, Title IV, degree-granting institutions and represents 97 percent of the country’s college-going population.

The decrease in enrollment was most pronounced at four-year, for-profit institutions, which showed declines of 19.7 percent. Attendance at two-year public institutions dropped by 3.4 percent and at four-year public institutions by 0.9 percent.

By contrast, enrollment at four-year, private nonprofit colleges and universities grew by 3.2 percent. The report’s authors, however, attribute this outlier to the fact that some of these schools have recently converted from for-profit to nonprofit status.

Not all levels of higher education saw a decline. While individuals aged 18 to 24 are less likely to pursue postsecondary education and undergraduate enrollment for all age groups is down overall, graduate degrees are growing in popularity. Enrollment at nonprofit graduate schools grew by 2 percent compared to the previous year, reports the NSCRC.

Lower enrollment numbers apply to both men and women, but the decline is far more pronounced among men, as has been the case for several years, according to researchers. This year, 2.8 percent fewer men attended college compared to 0.8 percent of women.