Universities must react to falling enrollment

Though UConn is doing better than most schools, enrollment is down even in Storrs. (Amar Batra/The Daily Campus)

For years, college has been the planned path for many adolescents after graduating from high school. Parents dream of sending their child off to accomplish their dreams and students are lectured endlessly that in order to succeed, a higher degree is a must. But in a report by Business Insider, despite all of the good college has to offer, enrollment has decreased each year for the past five years. While the reason for this decrease can be debated, some list tuition, loans and a changing job market as potential influencing factors deflating the college bubble.

It is a generalization to say that all college enrollment has fallen. In fact, out of all the different types of institutes, whether it be public, private nonprofit, private for-profit, etc. public enrollment has seen increases while private and community college enrollment have decreased. However, when taken as a whole, the number of students continuing education is lower than in past years.

Possible reasons for this fall are numerous and include a decrease in the birthrate as the children of Gen X reach college age, the increase in tuition, the student loans crisis and fiscal issues caused by the recession. The latter cannot completely be the blamed for the loss of enrollment because as Richard Vedder, an economics professor at Ohio University remarked to the Boston Herald, “even in the Great Depression, [college] enrollments went up."

The decrease in birthrate is more pronounced in wealthier communities when compared to poorer communities. Children from wealthier families are more likely to be sent to more lucrative, private colleges that rely heavily on high tuition bills to fund bloated expense reports. Such colleges have seen the highest loss of prospective students over recent years.

Inflated tuition costs for higher education is often viewed as the main cause of enrollment decrease. According to the U.S. Department of Education, as reported by the Boston Herald, public college tuition has seen a 7.2 percent increase over the last year along, a fact that students at UConn are acutely aware of.

Many students and families do not see the cost-benefit of higher education. While it is well known that a higher education leads to higher median salaries, according to numbers from the Federal Reserve Bank of New York, reported by the Boston Herald, found as of 2013, 46.2 percent of recent college graduates were considered underemployed. It is difficult to convince struggling families to scrape together enough funds to send their child to college or to take out massive loans to pay it off, with only a distant promise of a better future.

This fact of life has not gone unnoticed by struggling colleges. The University of Maine has done away with the concept of out-of-state tuition and now offers all admitted students the same in-state prices their prospective home university would have offered. In 2013, in a similarly unprecedented decision, Minnesota’s Concordia College cut tuition fees by 34 percent to attract new students.

UConn has been doing relatively well in comparison to other institutes. For the fall 2017 semester, UConn received nearly 37,000 applications, a record high. Despite this, however, enrollment was smaller than the previous year due (in part) to budget cuts made by the state of Connecticut. In a business that views every empty seat and bed—of which UConn has many—as lost revenue, a decrease in enrollment means decreased income to be used for university operations.

As the job market continues to change, colleges must adapt. After years of pushing STEM degrees, trade jobs are now in higher demand than many careers a higher degree offers. Often cheaper, trade schools are seen as a more affordable alternative that have a faster education-to-job turnover rate. If the current trends continue, many colleges not capable of adapting will be forced to close doors as students flock to cheaper and smarter alternatives.


David Csordas is a staff columnist for The Daily Campus. He can be reached via email at david.csordas@uconn.edu.