College Enrollment Drops, But Student Loans Remain a Growth Industry
NEW YORK ( MainStreet) The U.S. Census Bureau yesterday released its annual report on school enrollment and found that the head count at post-secondary institutions fell across the board by nearly half a million students. It reverses an upward trend that stretches back to 2006the year before the home mortgage crisis began to blow up. In 2012 there were 10.3 million people getting four-year degrees and 2.8 million in grad school, plus 6 million in two-year colleges.
But the amount of student loans continues to rise. The report's conclusions were made just months after the amount of student loan debt broke the $1 trillion barrier for the first time, for both public and private loans, and is hurtling toward $1.2 trillion and beyond. Public loans alone, made by the Department of Education, are now over $1 trillion .
People over 25 accounted for the biggest drop in college enrollment, down roughly 420,000 in 2012 compared to 2011, and students under 25 dropped by about 48,000. Whether this is a result of an improving job market or because thousands of people have been scared straight by the downside risk of higher learning is unclear. The number of older students had been on the rise throughout most of the past decade, according to numbers from the Department of Education.
While the report contained results that many people may not have expected, clues could be found earlier in A National Student Clearinghouse study released in May, which found that college enrollment dropped by 2.3% in the spring as more Americans were avoiding higher education and heading for the job market. Most students are under 25, but over 800,000 age 50 and up attended schools at all levels.
It's not clear whether this is evidence of a new trend or an anomalous, one-year hiccup. Enrollment for a single year and the total amount of student loans are apples-to-oranges metrics, since the bright-line $1 trillion-plus figure includes people whose loans are decades old. First time borrowers are a fraction of that number.
Even if student enrollment for the current academic year can be boiled down to a single number, information of student debt resists anything that comprehensible. In their March 2013 report, Federal Reserve Bank of New York staffers Meta Brown, Andrew Haughwout and Donghon Lee wrote, "Student loans support the education of millions of students nationwide, yet much is unknown about the student loan market."
"Relevant data are limited and, for the most part, anecdotal," they continued. "Also, sources tend to focus on recent college graduates and do not reveal much information about the indebtedness of parents, graduate students, and those who drop out of school."
According to the Chronicle of Higher Education , almost 20 million Americans attend college each year. Of that total, 60%, or nearly 12 million, borrow to go to school.