Cue upper crust panic: More kids are skipping college

It seemed only an anomaly – a dip in college attendance – which was easily attributable, thanks to the pandemic. But what was once a burp has become a trend and a worrying one at that for institutions of higher learning (Well, their cash flow, to be more precise.).

The undergraduate college enrollment decline has accelerated since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic. Public institutions—especially two-year colleges—experienced the steepest declines.

International enrollment and transfer enrollment also saw sharp declines during the pandemic.

The National Student Clearinghouse Research Center found that between fall 2019 and fall 2022: Note Reference[3]

, Postsecondary institutions lost about 1.1 million students—or about 6% of total enrollment,
, Undergraduate student enrollment fell by over 1.2 million students, or almost 8% of total enrollment,
, Graduate student enrollment grew by about 124,000 students, or by about 4%.
, The college enrollment decline slowed down between 2021 and 2022.

Graduate student numbers, while showing a slight increase, do not pay the bills for the campus. In a good many instances, they are often doing grunt work around the classrooms as assistants or tutors in an effort to offset their own tuition.

From being able to afford the cost to concerns about wracking up debt or just plain finding something different to do, there are a bunch of reasons – and good ones – high school graduates plus the 18-20 crowd are passing on higher ed at the moment . Of course, that’s the “world is going to end” crowdout.

…What first looked like a pandemic blip has turned into a crisis. Nationally, undergraduate college enrollment dropped 8% from 2019 to 2022, with declines even after returning to in-person classes, according to data from the National Student Clearinghouse. The slide in the college-going rate since 2018 is the steepest on record, according to the US Bureau of Labor Statistics.

Economists say the impact could be dire,

Why so serious? Like, the world might have less lawyers or gender studies grads or something?

,At worst, it could signal a new generation with little faith in the value of a college degree, At least, it appears those who passed on college during the pandemic are opting out for good. Predictions that they would enroll after a year or two haven’t borne out.

Fewer college graduates could worsen labor shortages in fields from health care to information technology. For those who forgo college, it usually means lower lifetime earnings — 75% less compared with those who get bachelor’s degrees, according to Georgetown University’s Center on Education and the Workforce. And when the economy sours, those without degrees are more likely to lose jobs.

,It’s quite a dangerous proposition for the strength of our national economy,” said Zack Mabel, a Georgetown researcher.

I think the skepticism about a college degree’s worth is pretty well warranted. The bulk of the blame can be dumped right back in the lap of institutions that offered worthless, costlyfantasy college degrees that left the graduate feeling fulfilled/educated, but actually broke, unemployed, unemployable, and awash in hundreds of thousands of dollars in interest accruing debt.

People who are driven to be nurses, doctors, engineers, software wizards, and rocket scientists somehow wind up doing so. It may take them a while to shake life out, but they do end up where they’re seemingly meant to be.

A liberal arts degree is a different bag and it can be full of worms/useless. Ask 8 out of 10 “psychology” or “art history” majors – where’d that thing get you for what it cost you, especially if you went to a “name” school? Your Bryn Mawr or Sarah Lawrence diploma looks great, but you’re still an unemployed Wymmins Studies major with a minor in Conflict Resolution and Race Studies who can’t settle an argument at the dinner table to save your life. Plus, you’re a cool quarter mil or more in debt.

Some HS grads have noticed that. Maybe seen it play out in their own families, or stumbled upon a revelation on their own. They went to work.

…The shift has been stark in Jackson, where just four in 10 of the county’s public high school graduates immediately went to college in 2021, down from six in 10 in 2019. That drop is far steeper than the nation overall, which declined from 66 % to 62%, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

Jackson’s leaders say young people are taking restaurant and retail jobs that pay more than ever. Some are being recruited by manufacturing companies that have aggressively raised wages to fill shortages.

“Students can’t seem to resist sign-on bonuses and wages that far exceed any that they’ve seen before,” said Vicki Bunch, the head of workforce development for the area’s chamber of commerce.

Across Tennessee, there’s growing concern the slide will only accelerate with the opening of several new manufacturing plants. The biggest is a $5.6 billion Ford plant near Jackson that will produce electric trucks and batteries. It promises to create 5,000 jobs, and its construction is already drawing young workers.

Daniel Moody, 19, was recruited to run plumbing for the plant after graduating from a Memphis high school in 2021. Now earning $24 an hour, he’s glad he passed on college.

“If I would have gone to college after school, I would have been dead broke,” he said. “The type of money we’re making out here, you’re not going to be making that while you’re trying to go to college.”

The kid in the quote above has been working as a plumber – he’s set if he sticks with it. The scary financial comparisons the college aficionados are so fond of quoting – “75% fewer earnings, lost jobs when the economy goes south” – kids can see right through that. Who’s getting emails to stay home at the moment? Not plumbers – Google, Twitter, and Facebook college graduates. GM may be laying off but it’s not just production people.

That plumber will always have work as will the carpenter. The trades. If you lose your job working, say, for a home builder, you can freelance your skills immediately – hustle to make ends meet. Kinda hard for a META engineer. Plus, you can be flexible – they have toilets and pipes everywhere. And you don’t have that student loan hanging over your head.

A lot of these kids get it and, to their credit, they’re thinking the long game.

…But when his school outside Nashville sent students home his junior year, he tuned out. Instead of logging on for virtual classes, he worked at local farms, breaking horses or helping with cattle.

“I stopped applying myself once COVID came around,” the 20-year-old said. “I was focusing on making money rather than going to school.”

When a family friend told him about union apprenticeships, he jumped at the chance to get paid for hands-on work while mastering a craft.

Today he works for a plumbing company and takes night classes at a Nashville union.

The pay is modest, Williams said, but eventually he expects to earn far more than friends who took quick jobs after high school. He even thinks he’s better off than some who went to college—he knows too many who dropped out or took on debt for degrees they never used.

,In the long run, I’m going to be way more set than any of themhe said.

There’s another fiscal shock coming for college enrollment, and it’s not based on whether one goes or not. It’s predicated on there being someone to go to begin with.

…The birth rate dropped again during the 2007-2009 recession. For this reason, experts predict another enrollment drop — or cliff – after 2025,

College revenues are following suit, as you’d expect. Think they’re getting the message and trying to make paying the freight more attractive? Maine is doing some interesting things with state schools and tuition packages,

Other schools are as well, from drastic…

…It’s an unlikely setting for a high-stakes gamble that could help drive dramatic change to a contentious issue: how, and how much, Americans pay to get a higher education.

Colby-Sawyer College, a nearly 200-year-old institution that inhabits a campus in the heart of this bucolic town, has announced that it will lower its tuition next year for undergraduates by 62 percent, from $46,364 to $17,500.

…to snipping around the edges.

Screencap WaPo

But it’s going to take a whole bucketload more than a price adjustment before enrollment comes back in any meaningful and measurable way. It could very well backfire, too, when people say, “Hey, wait a minute – just what was all that money for,

I’d even bet some DEI departments will find themselves on the sidewalks before kids come back to campus with their tuition money.

Across the board, house cleaning isn’t a bad idea.

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