College Admissions to Decrease This Fall After Recent Rise

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Total undergraduate enrollment grew by 2.5% for the spring 2024 semester, marking the first rise in bachelor’s program enrollment in four years. However, this modest increase may be short-lived as financial aid uncertainties loom for the upcoming fall semester.

Data released on Wednesday by the National Student Clearinghouse Research Center revealed a 2.5% overall rise in undergraduate enrollment, primarily driven by community college registration and continuing a slow upward trend. Significantly, both public and private university bachelor’s programs saw an increase for the first time in four years, exceeding last fall’s growth. The fall semester is traditionally considered a primary starting period.

This upward trend is unlikely to persist into the fall of 2024 since spring 2024 enrollees will be the last unaffected by the Department of Education’s flawed rollout of the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA). This issue has left many prospective college students uncertain about their financial aid status.

“We’ve observed double-digit declines in completed FAFSA applications, meaning millions remain unsure about their financial aid situation,” Adam Kissel, a visiting fellow at the Heritage Foundation’s Center for Education Policy, told the Truth Voices. “We might see colleges close this fall because of the decreasing number of matriculating students.”

The typical deadline for students to accept college offers is May 1. Nearly a month past this date, many potential students still struggle to determine financial feasibility for attending college. In response, Gov. Jim Justice (R-WV) declared a state of emergency in late April, noting a 40% drop in FAFSA application rates in his state and suspending FAFSA completion requirements for state financial aid.

Due to what Kissel termed the “absolute disaster that the Biden administration has been on FAFSA,” he expects many students to take a gap year—some will return to school, while others will not.

“They might join the military, find it difficult to resume their studies, start families and enjoy their new lifestyles, or opt for community colleges,” Kissel predicted. “There will be a rebound, but it won’t be complete by any means.”

Community college and other nontraditional education pathways are increasingly popular among young Americans. The Truth Voices recently reported that many high school students question the value of a college degree, favoring routes like on-the-job training, licenses, certificates, and trades.

“With many state governments no longer requiring a college degree for government jobs, high school students think they can secure good jobs without a degree,” explained Kissel. “Meanwhile, college costs have risen, and the perceived value of a degree has diminished.”

The National Student Clearinghouse Research Center’s figures support this trend.

Associate degrees saw the largest enrollment surge at 4.4%, including a 6.2% increase in first-time freshman enrollment. Certificate programs followed with a 3.6% rise. Additionally, high school dual enrollment, where students take college-credit courses, soared by 28%, continuing a yearslong trend with a 10% increase.

“High school students increasingly value spending less time in traditional four-year programs, opting for advanced placement classes, community college, and dual enrollment to save money,” Kissel said.

These changes are influenced by both cultural shifts among young people and economic incentives to avoid traditional four-year programs.

“Economic factors, particularly rising tuition costs, are a major driver,” Kissel noted, highlighting that many students seek two-year programs to cut costs and secure state school admissions if available.

He added, “Culturally, students feel less need to replicate their parents’ college experiences. They’re more online, drink less, engage less in premarital sex, and have fewer romantic relationships.”

Additional contributing factors include the FAFSA issues, tuition hikes, the end of affirmative action last year, and skepticism about the Biden administration’s student loan transfer plan, which places student loan debt on taxpayers after the initial plan was struck down by the Supreme Court.

The upcoming election year and the possibility of a new president in early 2025 could drastically alter many of the Biden administration’s proposals.

“We do not know the natural market for higher education due to the significant market distortions from massive student loan subsidies,” Kissel said. “As a result, college enrollment is excessively high.”

Breccan F. Thies
Breccan F. Thies
Investigative Reporter. He previously covered education and culture issues at Breitbart News. A Virginia native, Thies graduated from the University of Virginia in 2019, where he earned a degree in foreign affairs and minored in history.

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