With the emphasis on online college applications and common/universal admissions applications, it is no wonder that the number of submitted college applications is on a steep upward trajectory. The downside to easing the application process, however, is that colleges and universities now face greater uncertainty in determining the actual interest their applicants have in attending their particular university. In short, the reality reads something like this:
> Applicants ≠ > Enrolled students
Many schools are facing significant obstacles as they learn this hard lesson. According to a recent New York Times article, the colleges that are hit hardest by the economic upswing are those that are more likely to depend on tuition fees to keep the doors open. Enrollment numbers are becoming a big concern for the nation’s middle-tier institutions. As the economy improves, more and more workers are returning to the labor market—driving down the demand for higher education.
Another factor at play in decreasing enrollment numbers is the rising costs of college tuition. And though in his 2012 State of the Union Address, President Obama “put colleges and universities on notice” to lower their tuition costs, the reality is that the federal government has little to no power to affect actual state- and local-level reform in the world of tuition rates. It is up to colleges and universities to figure out cost-cutting measures for students. For example:
- Reducing student fees
- Downside: decreased quality/offerings of student services and resources
- Laying off adjunct or non-tenured professors
- Downside: increased class sizes, loss of collective knowledge and experience, decreased morale for remaining faculty members
- Reducing the geographic spread of a university system
- Downside: overcrowding the remaining campuses and loss of overall enrollees as students’ travel distances to school become burdensome
- Increasing offerings of online courses
- Downside: effectiveness of online learning is under fire, especially with the advent of MOOCs (which operate with little to no oversight and have abysmal completion rates)
The road to boosting college enrollment to pre-recession levels is going to be a long and arduous journey. Many colleges and universities will not be able to recover unless they reign in their operating costs, find novel ways to recruit students, boost enrollment of international students, expand their applicant pool of likely enrollees, and/or extend their application and acceptance deadlines well into the summer months.
As the national college debt hits the $1 trillion mark, it makes sense that many high school graduates and working class citizens may shy away from the “opportunity” to join the ranks of the debt-burdened mass of college graduates. No one is begrudging the fact that the nation is slowly lifting itself out of the 2008 recession; however, institutions of higher education must realize that improved job prospects may mean more empty seats in college classrooms. -Christine Duchouquette