College enrollment is posting its eighth consecutive year of declines

A lot of ink has been spilled over the perceived value of a college education. Much of that debate is focused on two issues: (1) younger generations are burdened with massive amounts of student debt, and (2) the lack of actual education taking place on college campuses, due to (a) treating students as consumers to please rather than teach, and (b) identity politics metastasizing traditional subject matters, rendering college credentials useless to the real world. All of these factors combined contribute to younger, mostly college-educated generations ironically not being able to function well or even normally in the US economy.

I can’t imagine encouraging our daughter not to attend college, but I frequently consider encouraging her to go abroad for her college studies as many US colleges are beyond parody at this point.

One data point that is oddly left out of discussions of the value of education is that people are “voting with their feet” already. This is not merely a theoretical matter. Enrollment at US colleges and universities has been crashing for several years now, across sectors (for-profit, non-profit, public, private, community colleges). There was an artificial up-tick in non-profit enrollment due to a large for-profit college transitioning to non-profit status (i.e., it makes for a false blip in the data). But the trend is clear.

It is going to be interesting to see how many private colleges – many of which are burdened with bonded debt of their own from the facilities arms race, constructing luxury accommodations for their student-consumers – will manage their way through significant cumulative declines in enrollment. Will they change how they operate to protect their brands, or will we be seeing a lot of financially distressed postsecondary institutions in coming years? (I suspect we will.) Will this current era be like the 1960s, where everyone smokes weed and obsesses over politics, only to ultimately grow up and start being conventionally successful? If there isn’t a change, the risk to this element of our society is very real.

6 thoughts on “College enrollment is posting its eighth consecutive year of declines

  1. I do not have kids, but my husband and I have said many times, we would be pushing for trade school much more so than we would be pushing for college these days. The colleges today are a waste of money. They are not preparing kids for the future, and they are not teaching any kind of useful job skills either. All they are doing is indoctrinating young kids, and none of them seem to be bale to think for themselves or have any common sense any more. My husband has a degree in Aerospace engineering and I have multiple degrees too. It is very sad how our schools are ruining our future.

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    1. The Wall Street Journal / Times Higher Education Supplement just published their new rankings of US colleges and universities, this time with financial data (how much students earn 10 years after graduating, average amount of student debt students at each institution graduate with). It was absolutely stunning to see these numbers, particularly how much wages for college-educated people have declined. There’s no mathematical way students at many of these institutions can come out ahead. Meanwhile, folks who are in trades are earning two to three times as much without the debt.

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      1. I know. A couple of years ago, my girlfriend and I were talking about this very same thing. She and her husband ahd just finished putting their 2 kids through very expensive private colleges, and spent roughly $1/2 million to do so, and NEITHER of those kids have a clue what they want to do, and HAVE no real skills. When I told her we would be pushing for trade school, you would have thought I had just shot her in the heart. She was astounded that I would say that. Trade schools work AND give them skills and jobs with no debts. They can always go back to college later if they are so inclined, but at least now they can be earning a living and acquiring great, useful skills.

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  2. Personally, I think one of the weirdest things about politics now is the media dividing voters into college-educated and not college-educated, and repeatedly caricaturing the latter as miserable, poor, drug-addicted stooges. They aren’t begging the US government to assume their consumer debt, and in many cases, folks who went into trades are out-earning recent college graduates (and not by a small amount). The shortfall in workers in our current economy is substantially all related to trades. In Florida, you can get a construction job that pays six figures with benefits, but there are not enough qualified workers to keep up with demand. Meanwhile, droves of college-educated folks are taking jobs that should not or do not require a college education to perform. The rhetoric is completely upside down from reality.

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  3. I completely agree. We have a friend who owns his own air conditioning and heating business and he makes a great living. he also says he can’t find enough people to work for him, because no one wants to “lower their standards” by working in the trade industry. It’s very, very sad.

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  4. Another funny misconception is that it will be blue collar workers whose jobs will get automated away with increased technology. It is far easier to write an algorithm that replaces an accountant or bookkeeper or middle manager than it is to replace a plumber. Most of the demand for software is coming from white collar environments.

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