College enrollment plummeting in U.S.
College students are beginning classes at campuses around the Philadelphia region and across the country.
But lecture halls are starting to have fewer students filling the seats.
Data released by the U.S. Census Bureau today shows that college enrollment nationwide plunged last fall, after several years of significant growth. That trend, several reports issued over the past year say, is expected to continue amid a declining number of high school graduates and rising concerns over college costs.
In fall 2012, there were 19.9 million college students in the United States, according to the Census Bureau figures -- a drop of 467,000 students from the previous year.
In contrast, college enrollments nationwide climbed by 3.2 million students between 2006 and 2011.
The Census Bureau said the drop was primarily fueled by a decline in the number of older students (above age 25) attending college.
The National Student Clearinghouse reported earlier this year that college enrollment dropped in both the fall and spring semesters of the 2012-13 school year. For-profit, two-year and four-year public schools all saw enrollment dips, according to the clearinghouse's data, while private nonprofit schools reported a small uptick.
In Pennsylvania, enrollment across the 14 universities in the State System of Higher Education dropped 2.9 percent between fall 2011 and fall 2012, the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette reported last year.
Many community colleges in the Philadelphia area have also reported enrollment declines. Officials at multiple schools told the Inquirer in January that new guidelines for federal financial aid -- making it harder for low-income students to attend -- were a major factor.
Additionally, college costs have skyrocketed in recent years -- an issue President Obama highlighted during a bus tour through New York and Pennsylvania last month -- and rising tuition and fees may be playing a role in the declining enrollments, according to Pew Charitable Trusts' Stateline news service.
Another big factor affecting college enrollments is the decline in high school graduating class sizes. A report issued earlier this year by the Western Interstate Commission for Higher Education said the number of high school graduates in both Pennsylvania and New Jersey peaked in the 2009-10 school year, and those numbers are expected to "decline consistently" over the next several years.
The declining number of high school students -- and the decline is expected to be particularly significant in the Northeast -- means "fewer students will be coming through the educational pipeline and moving into higher education," Jason E. Lane, the director of education studies at the Rockefeller Institute, wrote on the institute's website earlier this year.