2017 Inside Higher Ed Survey: College Enrollment in Decline

on September 14, 2017

Colleges are struggling to meet enrollment targets and have faced declining enrollments in recent years, according to the 2017 Survey of College and University Admissions Directors by Inside Higher Ed.


The survey found that fewer colleges are meeting enrollment targets, with only 34 percent hitting their target by May 1 of this year. That figure was a 3 percent decline from 37 percent last year and a 7 percent decrease from 42 percent two years ago.


Part of the reason for the decline could be because of concern about student debt, according to the report.


“Eight in 10 admissions directors say they are losing potential applicants because of concerns about student debt, including 89 percent of admissions directors at private colleges and 71 percent at public colleges,” the report states.


Admissions directors, however, were split when it came to supporting free tuition programs, which have been enacted in numerous states and cities across the country. The report found that 37 percent of admissions directors agree and 34 percent disagree that free college tuition is a good idea.


The findings were split between public and private institutions, with 50 percent of public institution admissions directors supporting the idea and 46 percent of private institution admissions directors disagreeing with it.


As a result of the enrollment declines, “there is an increased emphasis on ability to pay, increases in non-need-based aid as a recruiting tool and increased emphasis on recruiting out-of-state students and transfer students.”


There are key differences between public and private universities, though. Private colleges reported an increase in the recruiting of international students over public colleges (59 percent vs. 33 percent), out of state students (66 percent vs. 39 percent), merit scholarships (70 percent vs. 46 percent) and transfer students (85 percent vs. 63 percent).


International student recruitment also could be impacted by the Trump administration’s policies, the report stated. Some 46 percent of public colleges expect to see declines in international student enrollment, along with 20 percent of private colleges. 


“Admissions directors widely agree that President Trump’s statements and policies make it more difficult to recruit international students to U.S. colleges.”


Other key findings include:

  • More colleges are checking social media and basing admissions decisions on this. Harvard recently revoked admission to 10 or more students based on this.
  • Liberal arts colleges might have an image problem. The report found 95 percent of admissions officials strongly agree or agree that higher education needs to do a better job of explaining the value of a college education, up from 87 percent a year ago.

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