Recent data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics shows that 66 percent of 16- to 24-year-olds who graduated from high school in 2013 enrolled in college that fall — the lowest number since 2006. This is the third decline in the past four years, writes Ben Casselman at FiveThirtyEight.
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“Many analysts have attributed the slowdown in college attendance to the rapidly rising cost of a higher education,” says Casselman. “But while mounting concern over costs does appear to be putting downward pressure on tuitions, the evidence suggests that the drop in enrollment is being driven by a different factor: the improving job market.”
The largest drop was in part-time enrollment and community college attendance — in other words, the group most likely to be on the fence about whether to go to school or go to work. Enrollment in four-year schools actually increased, despite the fact that even non-profit, public institutions are more expensive than attending school part-time or getting a two-year degree.
From this perspective, the decline in enrollment might actually be a good sign for economy, or at least public perception of it: if more students who don’t really want to be in school feel that they can get jobs, they’re not going to opt for going to college instead.
College graduates out-earn those without degrees by about $17,500 annually, for workers aged 25 to 32, according to Pew Research Center. Still, it’s hard to get the best ROI for your tuition dollars if you’d rather be doing something else.
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