National Institute on Aging

Report Looks at Reasons for Declining Enrollments in Higher Education

A new report from the Lumina Foundation and the Gallup Organization offers a glimpse of the trends in the higher education landscape. The report found that college enrollment rates were falling even before the pandemic, but numbers nosedived in 2020 and 2021. College enrollment numbers remain well below pre-pandemic levels, but even if declines stabilize, the shrinking population of 18- to 24-year-olds means enrollment will continue downward. In addition, college completions fell for the first time in a decade in the 2021-2022 academic year.

Black students are more likely than White students to say it was difficult for them to remain enrolled in their programs. Some 43 percent of Black students say they considered stopping out in the past six months — up from 37 percent in 2021. The cost of higher education is cited as the main reason for stopping out.

Some 35 percent of young Black adults who are not enrolled in higher education say the reason is because of personal or mental health reasons. A third say emotional distress or childcare needs prevent them from enrolling. And a third say the job market is favorable so they would rather be in the workforce.

Statistics show Black students are more likely than White students to take out loans to pay for their undergraduate programs: Currently enrolled Black students surveyed are the most likely of any group to be carrying student loan debt, at 59 percent.

Black adults who have stopped out are the most likely of any racial or ethnic group of former students to say they have student loan debt. The 44 percent of stopped-out Black adults who say they have loans is double the percentage of White adults who say they do. More than 80 percent of Black students who have left higher education say they would “very likely” or “somewhat likely” re-enroll if their student loan debt was forgiven.

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