President Obama could be the first U.S. president since World War II to see college enrollments drop during his tenure, as new data shows that the number of students at the nation’s colleges continues to slide.
According to information released Wednesday by the National Student Clearinghouse, a nonprofit that collects academic data from most of the nation’s colleges and universities, the number of students attending some kind of post-secondary institution in fall 2014 fell by 265,000 students compared to the previous year, a drop of 1.3 percent.
That’s the third straight year that enrollment has declined, although the drop was slightly smaller than in years past. Overall, the number of college students in the U.S. is down about one million from a peak of about 21 million in 2010 and 2011.
The drop is most severe at public community colleges, which saw a big drop of 6 percent compared to last year. Also declining are private, for-profit four year schools, which saw enrollments dip by 0.4 percent. The drops at these schools reflect declining numbers of non-traditional students, who flocked back to college during the Great Recession but are now increasingly staying in the labor force.
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Demographics also play a role. Recent cohorts of 18-year-olds starting college have been smaller than in years prior, blunting the affect of college attendance rates among young people that are still rising.
Enrollment at public and private four-year colleges continued to increase slightly, with rises of 2.2 and 1.6 percent, respectively.
The sustained slide of the past few years is a first in recent American history. According to census data, since World War II every single president has ended their time in office with more students attending college, a reflection of both a rising population and the growing need for a degree to advance one’s career.
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