College Enrollment Falls

The 2012 preliminary report on college enrollment indicates that enrollment in colleges and universities dropped in the fall of 2011 from the previous year.  A decline, while not pointing specifically to the quality and availability of K-12 education, is likely linked to quality and choice at the K-12 level for students and families.  The preliminary findings show the drop was almost 34,000 students.  It indicates the decline was evident among American Indian and white students despite gains for Asian, Black and Hispanic students.  The final report may provide more information about the factors that led to the overall decline as well as the factors that led to the good news of increases among these three ethnic groups.

The overall decline, however, is not good news.  US global competitiveness demands higher college enrollments, better graduation rates from high schools and colleges, and a greater proportion of Americans enrolled in the STEM disciplines of science, mathematics, engineering and technology-related paths to careers.  Other countries are already ahead of the U.S. in the share of their citizens with college degrees.  We understand that even the basic college degree may be insufficient for more technical and professional career paths.  However, without the basic four-year degree, those higher paid technical and professional career paths are closed to US citizens.

We await the more detailed report from Washington, but preparation and readiness for college probably still remain issues that the US must better address if it is to increase the portion of its citizens with college degrees.  Readiness for college is a responsibility of high schools as well as colleges, which must assure effective transition from one system of education to another.  Preparation means more attention yet to K-12 education and the likely need for higher quality education, higher graduation rates, and more variety in choice among routes to a high school degree.  Previously I wrote on the growth in and the potential that the rising quality of charter schools offers the K-12 education sector.

I have also pointed out the growing quality of online education  and the increasing number of K-12 online educational opportunities.  Some schools, and I include traditional public schools like those I attended, effectively meet the needs of many students and their families.  For some students, however, there is a need for greater challenge, especially in areas like the arts or sciences.  For other students, there is a need for the opportunity to work flexible hours while getting a high school degree.  For a multitude of others there are a variety of reasons why traditional schools just are not as effective in meeting their individual needs.  In response, society has a responsibility to offer choices that fit students’ diverse needs.

While we still await the final report on college enrollment, the preliminary news of a decline is not good.  And we have a responsibility as a 21st century society to address causes and potential causes of a decline in college enrollment.  That responsibility includes increasing the quality of and the availability of choices in K-12.  It also points to a responsibility of colleges and universities to decrease the transition costs from high school to college and make enrollment even easier.