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Report: College Enrollment Plunges By Half Million Students

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File photo of a college classroom. (credit:  JEAN-PIERRE CLATOT/AFP/Getty Images)

File photo of a college classroom. (credit: JEAN-PIERRE CLATOT/AFP/Getty Images)

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WASHINGTON (CBSDC/AP) — A new report finds that college enrollment has plunged by approximately a half million students in comparison to the previous year.

Statistics compiled by the United States Census Bureau in “School Enrollment: 2012” showed that college enrollment fell by 467,000 students in the fall of 2012. It was the reverse of what the bureau previously observed after 3.2 million enrolled in college between 2006 and 2011.

The bureau found that the decrease was caused by the lack of students enrolling in college after reaching age 25 or older. The enrollment of that age group fell by 419,000, while enrollment for younger students went down by only 48,000.

Non-Hispanic white enrollment declined by 1.1 million, while enrollment by black students fell by 108,000.

On the other end of the spectrum, college enrollment increased in Hispanics, whose enrollment numbers grew by 447,000 between 2011 to 2012. The percentage of Hispanic college students rose from 11 to 17 percent while non-Hispanic white students went from 67 to 58 percent between 2006 and 2012.

“This increase in the number of Hispanics enrolled in college can be attributed to the combination of an increase in the adult Hispanic population and their climbing likelihood of being enrolled,” Julie Siebens, a statistician in the Census Bureau’s Education and Social Stratification Branch, said in a press release.

This new report comes a month after President Barack Obama unveiled a broad new government rating system for colleges that would judge schools on their affordability and perhaps be used to allocate federal financial aid.

For colleges and universities, millions of federal aid dollars could be on the line if schools are downgraded under the government rating system. However, if colleges line up against the idea of tying ratings to federal aid, the proposal would face nearly impossible odds. Almost all members of Congress have colleges or universities in their districts, and a coordinated effort to rally students and educators against the plan would probably kill it quickly.

The rising cost of college has increasingly become a burden for many Americans. According to administration figures, the tuition costs at public, four-year universities has tripled over the last 30 years and average student loan debt stands at $26,000.

Over the past five years, the tuition sticker price at public four-year colleges is up 27 percent beyond overall inflation, according to a College Board survey. At private schools, the average student’s cost has risen 13 percent beyond overall inflation.

There has been little consensus among policymakers on how to curb college costs. While Obama’s proposal could give colleges an incentive to slow increases, it could also add massive reporting requirements that could be a burden on schools already struggling to make ends meet.

The new rating system does not require congressional approval, and the White House is aiming to have it set up before the 2015 school year. But Obama does need support from Congress in order to use the ratings as a basis for parceling out federal financial aid.

In addition to tuition, schools will also be rated on average student loan debt, graduation rates and the average earnings of graduates. Under Obama’s proposal, students attending highly rated schools could receive larger grants and more affordable loans.

The president is also seeking legislation to give colleges a “bonus” based on the number of students they graduate who received Pell Grants. The goal is to encourage colleges to enroll and graduate low- and moderate-income students.

Obama’s other proposals include a requirement that colleges with high dropout rates distribute student aid over the course of the semester rather than in a lump sum. The aim is to ensure that students who drop out do not receive funds for time they are not in school.

(TM and © Copyright 2013 CBS Radio Inc. and its relevant subsidiaries. CBS RADIO and EYE Logo TM and Copyright 2013 CBS Broadcasting Inc. Used under license. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed. The Associated Press contributed to this report.)

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