By Stephany Shelton, Research Analyst
We’ve all seen the headlines: “University Enrollment Declines Following Years of Record Growth.”
According to the U.S. Census Bureau, between 2011 and 2012, the number of college students enrolled in the United States declined by nearly half a million. While the key driver of this slump involved students over the age of 25, the question still remains: amid rising college costs and the persistent scrutiny of the value of a college degree, will this trend continue?
The value of higher education and declining enrollments has attracted much attention in the U.S. political arena. In 2009, President Obama first announced his goal for the United States to reclaim its status as the nation with the largest percentage of college-educated citizens. (Currently the U.S. is ranked 12th out of 36 developed countries for adults ages 25 to 34 with a college degree.) This aspiration later developed into the 20/20 plan, spearheaded by the Lumina Foundation, and will require raising the percentage of Americans ages 25 to 64 with a college degree from 41.2% to nearly 60.0% by the year 2020. The key driver behind this push lies in concern over the nation’s ability to remain competitive. As per the Pell Institute, “many believe the nation’s standing and competitiveness is being jeopardized as numerous countries begin and continue to surpass the United States in degree attainment.” Lumina posits that the “system must be retooled and redesigned to meet the needs of all types of students because we need these 21st century students to succeed – without delay and in far greater numbers.”
While President Obama and the Lumina Foundation aspire to increase access to college degrees, the high school graduate minority demographic is projected to grow through 2020. According to the Western Interstate Commission for Higher Education, prospective minority students will account for 45% of the nation’s public high school graduates, increasing from 38% in 2009. Hispanic students are posing the greatest increase in degree attainment, attending college at a rate of 69% compared with 67% among their white, non-Hispanic counterparts in 2012 (Pew Research Hispanic Center).
Furthermore, in the report titled “Separate & Unequal: How Higher Education Reinforces the Intergenerational Reproduction of White Racial Privilege” released earlier this year by Georgetown University’s Center on Education and the Workforce, co-authors Anthony Carnevale and Jeff Strohl argue that while black and Hispanic students are attending college, they appear to be attending less selective schools with a much lower graduation rate than their white peers. These findings suggest that the key to increasing this country’s college degree attainment levels in the future lies in improving how we recruit, retain, and graduate this growing and under-supported demographic. In the 2012-2013 College Bound Market Update (CBMU), a national survey conducted by Eduventures of over 11,000 high school sophomores, juniors, and seniors on their perspective of the college search process, the data signal key differences in how we should be recruiting and retaining African American and Hispanic high school students. In particular, two key trends have emerged from this data: the importance of messaging around financial aid and scholarships and value placed on career preparation. Data from a sample of over 1,000 African American and Hispanic prospective students across the nation indicate that information regarding college affordability and how to pay for college is crucial in recruiting. In selecting key information of interest during the college search process, African American and Hispanic students are significantly more interested in information regarding tuition and fees (92% vs. 87% of all other races) and financial aid and scholarships (90% vs. 79% of all others). Additionally, given that African American and Hispanic students are more likely to be first generation college students (62% vs. 32% of all other races/ethnicities), information on application requirements and deadlines is also of greater importance to them in the college search process, as many of their parents have never attended college previously.Career preparation is particularly important to this demographic, and relaying information regarding these outcomes is critical. Four of the top five outcomes of highest importance to African American and Hispanic students are career-related, and importance placed on these outcomes is significantly greater than it is for other races and ethnicities. Tying skills learned in your college degree program with successful career paths, as well as providing networking and career-building opportunities with employers and alumni, will help attract and retain these students. There’s no longer any doubt that the demographic makeup of the college bound population is shifting, which complicates not only your enrollment strategies, but also your alumni outreach. Meeting these challenges head on will allow you and your institution to combat declining enrollments and, incidentally, help our nation reach its educational goals. Please stay tuned for future blog posts in 2014 pertaining to how to recruit and retain this key minority segment.