Monday, October 22, 2012

Guest Blog Post: The Shifting Enrollment Demographics at Traditional and Online Colleges

Rachel Higgins, a frequent contributor to online education resource page, shares some pertinent statistics on university enrollment trends in the article that follows. Prestwick Cafe has talked about the importance of college attendance at multiple points in the past, but Rachel’s insights add a lot of substance about what the modern admissions landscape actually looks like.  

In recent years, the “status quo” of enrollment on college campuses has been influenced by shifting trends in student demographics like gender, entering age, and racial background. Experts believe that several factors, including the economic recession and more available scholarship and financial assistance opportunities, have contributed to these nationwide changes.

For one, more students are enrolling in college straight out of high school. According to a recent report by Catherine Rampell of The New York Times, more than 70 percent of outgoing high school seniors in the U.S. were enrolled in college courses the following October. This figure represents the highest percentage since 1959, when the US Department of Labor began recording this type of data. Furthermore, more than 90 percent of these freshmen were full-time students. According to the National Center for Education Statistics, overall enrollments at degree-granting institutions have also risen steadily for the past few decades. Between 1990 and 2000, enrollments increased by 11 percent; in the subsequent 10 years, the number more than tripled. Between 2000 and 2010, full-time enrollment grew by 45 percent, while part-time enrollment rose 26 percent.

Enrollment increases have varied based on the desired degree level. Undergraduate enrollments have steadily risen since 1985; following a plateau period from 1992 to 1998, they grew by 37 percent between 2000 and 2010. Enrollment rate for post-baccalaureate studies have proven less consistent. While NCES notes that graduate program enrollments grew by 78 percent between 1985 and 2010 (after a relatively stable decade), Tamar Lewin of The New York Times noted a slight decline in master’s and doctoral enrollments between 2009 and 2010. Debra W. Stewart of the Council of Graduate Schools told Lewin that the dip was particularly significant for business, education, and public administration programs. Several factors, including the continuous recession and the rising cost of tuition, have caused many men and women to reconsider graduate school. “People who have a job are less likely to want to leave it to go back to school, because it’s not at all clear that there will be a job for them at the other end,” she said.

As the overall population has grown and the number of enrollments has increased, students of both genders have reported notable matriculation increases. Between 2000 and 2010, female enrollments rose 45 percent, while male enrollments rose 26 percent. In Fall 2010, full-time female students outnumbered full-time male students by nearly 25 percent, while part-time female students outnumbered part-time male students by nearly 50 percent. Chosen field of study also varied between men and women, according to a 2010 list compiled by Forbes that broke down college majors by gender. Business was the top field for both men and women. The next highest majors for men were social sciences and history, engineering, visual and performing arts and computer science. For women, the next highest majors were health and clinical science, social science and history, education and psychology.

The NCES reports that slightly more than 4 million male students attended public institutions full-time in Fall 2010; 677,838 attended private, not-for-profit schools; 517,627 attended private, for-profit institutions; and slightly less than 600,000 attended religious-affiliated schools. During the same term, 4.7 million female students attended public institutions full-time; 815,529 attended private, not-for-profit schools; 912,272 attended private, for-profit institutions; and 803,152 attended religious-affiliated schools. Between 2005 and 2010, male and female enrollments at public universities rose 20 percent and 14.7 percent, respectively; during that same period, male and female enrollments at private universities rose 29 percent and 37 percent, respectively.

Racial demographics have also shifted considerably in recent years. Between 1976 and 2000, for instance, enrollment of Hispanic students grew from 3 to 13 percent; enrollment of Asian/Pacific Islander students rose from 2 to 6 percent; and enrollment of African-American students increased from 9 to 14 percent. During that same period, enrollment of Caucasian students dropped from 83 percent to 61 percent. Several factors are behind this shift, including “quotas” implemented at various institutions to promote on-campus diversity and a growing number of scholarships, grants and other affordable financial aid options for low-income students and their families. In the last two years, Hispanic and African-American enrollments at both 2- and 4-year institutions rose by 7 percent and 6.3 percent, respectively, while Caucasian enrollment declined by 0.7 percent.

The NCES also reports fluctuating racial demographics at various types of higher education institutions. In 2008, 72.9 percent of Caucasian students attended public institutions, while 20.8 percent attended private, not-for-profit schools and 6.3 percent attended private, for-profit schools. Students belonging to minority groups, on the other hand, tended to gravitate toward private institutions. That same year, private schools (both for-profit and not-for-profit) reported attendance from 31.9 percent of African-American college students; 24.6 percent of Asian/Pacific Islander students; and 20.8 percent of American Indian/Alaska Native students. The exception was Hispanic students, 80.1 percent of which whom chose to attend a public university.

Finally, the chosen field of study among students varied between racial minority demographics. While business was the most common undergraduate major among all racial groups, African-American students earned the highest number of business bachelor’s degrees (25 percent), as well as the lowest number of engineering degrees (3 percent). Twelve percent of Asian students studied biological and biomedical sciences, while 9 percent earned an engineering bachelor’s degree; they also recorded the lowest percentage of education majors (2 percent). Native Americans/Alaska Natives recorded the highest number of education bachelor’s degrees at 8 percent. For master’s degrees, education and business were the two most popular choices for all ethnic groups.

While the demographic shifts recently recorded at American colleges and universities have been dramatic, studies suggest student populations will continue to grow more diverse in the years to come. And with the end of the recession and the resulting declines in overall tuition costs, enrollment numbers also stand to greatly increase during that time.

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