Higher education is facing a serious crisis: the number of students on America’s college campus has been dropping steadily for the past few years. The level of college enrollment in the United States is now 6% lower than it was in 2011.
Enrollments for the fall semester of 2015 were down almost 2% from the fall of 2014, the National Student Clearinghouse Research Center reported. More disturbingly, the number of students under the age of 24 dropped by 4% between 2014 and 2015, meaning that fewer young people are pursuing a degree.
The crisis is worse at for-profit, four-year schools, where enrollment has dropped by 14%, Higher Education reported. Public and private non-profit universities were in better shape; they saw an enrollment drop of just around 1%.
Thirty-six Percent Drop in Enrollment
Some schools have reported even greater decreases in enrollment. The Metropolitan University of Denver reported that enrollment dropped by 4.9% between the spring semester of 2015 and the spring semester of 2016.
Enrollment at John A. Logan College in Carterville, Ill. dropped by 36% last fall, The Southern Illinoisan newspaper reported. The Illinoisan also reported enrollment at all community colleges and smaller institutions in Southern Illinois had dropped.
Classes at some colleges are also being affected. Great Falls College-Montana State University announced that it is cutting 10 programs because of declining enrollment, KRTV reported. The drop enrollment led to a $425,000 budget shortfall and forced the college to implement a hiring freeze.
It looks as if a major crisis is about to affect American colleges and few people are noticing. Not only could the enrollment drop and devastate campuses, the effects could be felt far beyond campus, for example, on all the businesses that depend on college students’ business, which range from used bookstores to pizzerias.
Declining Enrollment could make Income Inequality Far Worse
The truly frightening aspect of the enrollment decline is that it could make America and Americans poorer and income inequality far worse. The statistics prove that less education generally equals less money in today’s world.
The average young adult with only a high school diploma earned 38% less in salary than a young person with a college degree, the Pew Research Center reported. That means a person with just a high school diploma makes 62 cents for each dollar earned by a person with a college degree.
Those numbers indicate a person gives himself a 38% pay cut by not going to college. That means income inequality will get worse and poverty will increase as college enrollment falls.
To make matters worse, the unemployment rate for those without a college degree is about one third higher, meaning that less college enrollment equals more unemployment.
Why Americans are Not Going to College
Despite those numbers, there is a very obvious reason why fewer Americans are going to college: young people no longer think a college degree offers any economic benefit. Consider these numbers uncovered by The Huffington Post last year:
- The unemployment rate for college graduates was 8.5%.
- Around 49% of 2013 and 2014 college graduates considered themselves underemployed.
- The average college graduate makes around $18 an hour, or $36,000 a year. That is around $15,000 below the average U.S. salary, which was around $51,939 a year.
- The Economic Policy Institute estimated that the average hourly pay for a college graduate fell from $18.41 an hour in 2000 to $17.94 in 2014.
- Despite the falling salary, the average college graduate in 2015 faced $35,000 in student loan debt, The Wall Street Journal
- More than 70% of college graduates in 2015 had at least some college debt, according to The Journal.
These numbers indicate that the economic benefits of college are limited. Graduates’ pay is not that high, and many of them are saddled with student loan debt.
News stories about America’s growing student loan debt crisis are also undoubtedly fueling the crisis. Americans now owe around $1.2 trillion in student loan debt, and 60% of that debt is owed by the lowest income Americans, Project Syndicate’s Mohamed A. El-Erian noted. To make matters worse, student loan debt now makes up 45% of the federal government’s obligations.
Around 10% of those with student loan debts have trouble paying them. El-Erian thinks that student loan debt is so bad that it will make income inequality worse and could to lead to a crisis that will require a major government bailout in the near future.
Bernie to the Rescue?
The decline in college enrollment is bad news for America, but it could be good news for presidential candidate U.S. Senator Bernie Sanders (D-Vermont). Sanders has been promoting a plan that would use a “Robin Hood tax” (a sales tax on financial transactions) to pay for free tuition at public colleges for all U.S. citizens for some time.
It is no mistake that Sanders won the New Hampshire primary, and polls indicate he and Hillary Clinton are now neck and neck in the Democratic presidential primary. Bernie’s greatest success has been with younger voters most likely to be thinking about college. Sanders won 84% of the votes of people between the ages of 17-29 (those most likely to go to college) in the Iowa Democratic caucus in January 2016, The Washington Post reported.
It looks as if college costs and enrollment have become a major political issue in the United States and it is easy to see why. The numbers indicate that a growing percentage of Americans consider college an impractical dream that is beyond their reach.