Magazine article The Hispanic Outlook in Higher Education

Enrollment Down but Success Rates Higher at Community Colleges

Magazine article The Hispanic Outlook in Higher Education

Enrollment Down but Success Rates Higher at Community Colleges

Article excerpt

Enrollments are decreasing at two-year colleges but graduation rates are not nearly as dire as formerly believed.

National trends in enrollment at community colleges show a steady drop of approximately 3 percent a year since 2011. On the other hand, completion rates measured by more accurate sources are much higher than the usual 21 percent reported by the Department of Education (ED).

These are the major takeaway findings of the new report by The American Association of Community Colleges titled, Recent National Community College Enrollment and Award Completion Data. The report compares data from several sources: The U.S. Department of Education (ED), the National Student Clearinghouse (NSC), the National Center for Education Statistics (NCES), and the National Student Clearing House Research Center (NSCRC).

Different sources yield slightly different results. For example, NCES and NSC reports differ in that NCES is a more comprehensive view of enrollment patterns while NSC data is more current.

Two recent reports show a definitive trend of decreasing enrollments in postsecondary institutions, including community colleges. The reports rely on statistics gathered by NCES, ED, and the National Student Clearinghouse Research Center.

There is consensus that enrollment at community colleges nationwide declined by more than 3 percent between the fall semester of 2011 and fall 2012. NSC data show a similar decline for the fall of 2013. Fall 2010 was the last time that community colleges saw a very small increase in enrollment. Since that time, community colleges have had year-to-year decreases in enrollment. The largest decrease took place between fall 2010 and spring 2011. During the 12- month period between fall 2012 and fall 2013, enrollment decreases at community college have stabilized at around 3 percent.

The report states, "The continued decrease in enrollment at community colleges over the past 3 years bucks the trend of a slowing decline of enrollment at institutions overall and recent enrollment increases at 4-year public institutions."

Teasing out the nuances of the declining enrollment data, the report shows that enrollment of students 24 years-old and higher had a bigger decline than that of younger students. For the past three years the dedine in the 24-year-old and higher cohort has dipped faster and deeper than for younger students, more than doubling between 2011 and 2013. The decline reached 6 percent in the fall of 2013.

The report explains the declining enrollment of the 24-year-old and higher students as possibly due to a brightening economy, permitting older students who were previously unemployed to rejoin the workforce.

NSC analyzed enrollment patterns according to three factors related to student attributes: age (discussed above), gender, and enrollment intensity, that is, part-time vs. full-time attendance. Table 2 depicts these three factors over fall semesters 2011,2012, and 2013.

The table shows that the annual decrease in the enrollment of men has been fairly steady, hovering around 2 percent. In contrast, the annual decrease for women has been steeper from a decline of one percent between fall 2010 and 2011 up to a 4 percent enrollment decline between 2012 and 2013, the most recent data gathered.

The statistical changes in enrollment intensity are less definitive. The percent of decrease in enrollment of full-time students between fall 2010 and 2012 was almost twice as large as the decrease between fall 2012 and 2013, 5.3 percent versus 2.9 percent.

For part-time students during the same period, the trend is reversed. …

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