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Higher ed enrollments leveled off last year in district states

August 29, 2013


Ron Wirtz Editor, fedgazette
Higher ed enrollments leveled off last year in district states

As college students head back to school, administrators will have their clickers out taking head counts in hopes of keeping classrooms full, but not too full.

Statewide enrollment data are often not released publicly until the following summer (or, in some cases, at the request of the fedgazette). These data show that 2012 was a bit of an enrollment breather for colleges and universities throughout the district. Last year, undergraduate enrollments across public college and university systems fell in three of five district states (see Chart 1). Graduate enrollments also dropped last year in three states (see Chart 2).

Higher ed CH 1-2 -- 8-29-13

Despite the pause in growth, enrollments have grown significantly since 2008, particularly in the Dakotas and Montana. Enrollment growth is even more pronounced over the past decade; South Dakota, for example, has seen undergraduate and graduate enrollments increase about 20 percent since 2003. North Dakota’s graduate population is up by 54 percent over the same period.

Since the recession, 2-year schools have seen the strongest growth in many states, including Minnesota (see Chart 3). But that’s not the case everywhere. The 13 percent increase in students at North Dakota’s 2-year schools was outstripped by head counts for 4-year undergraduates (24 percent) and graduate students (20 percent).

Higher ed CH 3 -- 8-29-13

Two-year enrollments are also slipping in some states. Wisconsin saw 20 percent enrollment growth of full-time-equivalent students at its popular technical colleges from 2005 to 2010, topping 82,000. But FTE enrollment in 2011 dropped by 5 percent. (Fall 2012 figures were not available, according to system officials.) 

But nowhere are the numbers more bleak than for private career (or trade) schools (see Chart 3). These programs have been hard hit by the recession, comparatively high tuition and rising student loan levels (read more about these topics here). In Minnesota, enrollments in 2-year career schools peaked in 2009 at 36,700, only to fall by more than 11,000 students by the fall of last year.

William Thomas, fedgazette intern, contributed data for this article.

Ron Wirtz
Editor, fedgazette

Ron Wirtz is a Minneapolis Fed regional outreach director. Ron tracks current business conditions, with a focus on employment and wages, construction, real estate, consumer spending, and tourism. In this role, he networks with businesses in the Bank’s six-state region and gives frequent speeches on economic conditions. Follow him on Twitter @RonWirtz.