A shrinking higher ed

For the first time in 15 years, university enrollment has dropped.

Daily Editorial Board

According to a new report, higher education may be shrinking for the first time in at least 15 years.

The total enrollment at colleges and universities eligible for federal financial aid in the U.S. fell slightly in the fall of 2011 from the year before, according to preliminary data released Tuesday by the U.S. Department of Education’s National Center for Education Statistics.

The data from the department’s Integrated Postsecondary Education Data System show that 21,554,004 students were enrolled in fall 2011, down from 21,588,124 in fall 2010. This drop is small — only a fraction of a percentage point — yet it is the first time enrollment has dropped since 1996.

While this is not an issue now, higher education enrollment plays an extremely important role in producing a skilled labor force, innovating our way of life, and is inherently beneficial to our population. Yet, this drop could be an indicator of a trend in higher education: the economic troubles within higher education. Schools across the country have barred students from enrolling, citing a lack of funding for new students. Enrollment for part-time students is dropping nationwide, as colleges are deciding not to invest time and money into students who are not going to school full time.

As witnesses to a large higher education community, we can see that students are investments for the future. Even in the face of a still-struggling economy, education has been a time-tested investment. Though these numbers show only a slight drop, we should be weary of ignoring them as education experiences troubling issues nationally. Education is an invaluable asset to the national economy and should continue to be as inclusive as possible.