Shutterstock

There were nearly half a million fewer people enrolled in higher education in 2012, and that's a good sign.

Across the country, higher education enrollment is plummeting. There were nearly half a million fewer students enrolled in college and graduate school in fall 2012 than there were a year earlier, according to a new Census release. That decline is all the more startling when you consider this: between 2006 and 2011, graduate and undergraduate enrollment grew by 3.2 million. The biggest decline, by far, came from students over 25. Their enrollment fell by 419,000; younger students dropped by 48,000.

The reason? The recovering economy, according to Terry Hartle, senior vice president at the American Council on Education.

Higher education enrollment has risen over the last 20 years, Hartle says, but the trend is counter-cyclical. During bad economies, people rush to finish a degree or pick up new skills. That's why 2007 and 2008 saw a 13 percent increase in enrollment, the biggest jump in 25 years.

The half-a-million person drop sounds big, he says, but it's really just a return to normalcy. "Enrollment tends to level off or fall when the economy is improving," he says. "Given how much enrollment surged during the economic downturn, a reduction was inevitable."

And this could be good news for colleges too, Hartle explains. "Many of the areas where we've seen the sharpest increase in demand are places like California, where community colleges couldn't enroll everyone," he says. "I don't think the cyclical fluctuations are a major problem."

Top image: hxdbzxy/Shutterstock.com

About the Author

Most Popular

  1. Construction workers build affordable housing units.
    Equity

    Why Is 'Affordable' Housing So Expensive to Build?

    As costs keep rising, it’s becoming harder and harder for governments to subsidize projects like they’ve done in the past.

  2. Equity

    The Side Pittsburgh Doesn't Want You to See

    Pittsburgh filmmaker Chris Ivey has spent over twelve years documenting the lives of the people displaced so that the city can achieve its “cool” status.  

  3. Equity

    Seattle Has 5 Big Pieces of Advice for Amazon’s HQ2 Winner

    Being HQ1 has been no picnic.

  4. Transportation

    If You Drive Less Than 10,000 Miles a Year, You Probably Shouldn't Own a Car

    Up to one-quarter of all U.S. drivers might be better off using ride-sharing services instead.

  5. The 560-foot-tall Juche Tower in Pyongyang, North Korea.
    Videos

    Seeing Pyongyang in 360 Degrees

    A photographer in a microlight aircraft shot 360-degree video over the secretive North Korean capital.