The college conundrum: College seems to be losing some of its allure

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685,000 fewer students were enrolled in post-secondary education in America this spring, a 4.1% fall on 2021, which itself was a 3.5% fall on the numbers from 2020 according to data out yesterday from the NSC Research Center. That fall marks the 11th straight year that the spring count of total enrollments has dropped in the US.

The college conundrum

The biggest drop came in undergraduates, as 662,000 fewer undergraduates enrolled — a 4.7% drop on the year before. Community college numbers fell almost 8%.Part of that fall could be explained away by the pandemic, where remote-learning distinctly diminished the college experience, but the scale and consistency of the declines suggest something larger is at play: college is losing its allure.

Once the golden ticket to a middle class life, the rise in the cost of college has outstripped the rise in the cost of living many times over in the last 50 years, suggesting that the math of the college decision is, for some prospective students, not adding up anymore.

Interestingly, the most well-known institutions are bucking this trend. The acceptance rate at Harvard plunged to an all-time low (~3%). The same happened at Stanford... and Yale... and Brown... and Columbia (to name but a few). The college path might not make quite as much sense for everyone as it used to, but the big name institutions aren't the ones losing out.

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