US College Enrollment – Data from the Last 20 Years

Well, I discovered an issue last week, a rather common one, it would seem. More of a “known issue” or “it’s not a bug it’s a feature.” In fact, my brother guessed exactly what it was one shot without needing to be told.

I am, of course, speaking of the “you’ll have to pay upfront and let financial aid reimburse you” bit. It’s probably not even a fatal flaw for me, fortunately, but I only know this because I’ve spent the last couple of days making phone calls and spinning up some backup plans. I suppose this is why student loans, which are not one of my plans, backup or otherwise, are so… endemic. I would not have had a particularly fun time sorting this out fifteen years ago. Of course, I never had to deal with it then either, so maybe I was just lucky.

My academic advisor, however, seems extremely confident that this can be sorted out, and I really have no choice but to trust her in that regard. After all, it’s her job and I highly doubt that this is a particularly unique problem.

It’s slightly timely too, that the Freakonomics podcast should be talking about student loans and such this week as well.

enrollment all ages
Undergraduate Enrollment – National Center for Education Statistics

Among the information presented was that overall enrollment has been down so far this decade. He speculated some on whether or not the cause of this was people scared off by the cost or reputation that student loans have acquired. He also pointed out, however, that there tends to be an inverse relationship between enrollment and employment. That is when anyone who wants a job can get one less of them bother with college. That would also explain the strong spike right around 2008 when the housing bubble was causing a great degree of mischief. This caused many people, myself included, to be at least temporarily unemployed.

college enrollment

Now, I have the first graph because I found this one when I did a google search on college enrollment rates and immediately went “wait, that does not agree with what I’ve been told” and went back to see what their source was. There is, in fact, a critical difference that’s not readily apparent from the images. The first one is total enrollment in millions and the second one is enrollment as a percentage of 18-24 year olds.

Census data says we had 27.1m in that age group in 2000 and 30.7m in 2010, so if roughly 36% of them were enrolled in 2000 and 41% in 2010, that’s about 9.7m and 12.6m enrolled, respectively. Total enrollment for all ages was around 13.2m in 2000 and 18.1m in 2010. With a total increase of 4.9m students in the period, 2.9m are in the younger age group, which means the other 2m are older.

The drop in the first chart between 2010(18.1m) and 2016(16.9m) is around 1.2. Since the percentage of the younger group enrolled remained fairly flat in that time and the actual number of individuals probably increased, I’m going to go ahead and assume most of that drop came from the older group which would seem to support the employment idea. There’s a lot more to dig into, really, but I already don’t know where I was going with this and I have other things I need to be doing. Pretty confident student loans aren’t a major contributing factor to the drop though.

Y’all take care, and remember to invest a 401k early if it’s available. Never know when that kind of thing might come in handy.

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