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Community College Enrollment Soaring

Enrollment grew by 14 percent during the 1990s 


Enrollment growth in America's community colleges outpaced all other major postsecondary institutions, according to a new issue brief released by the Center for Policy Analysis at the American Council on Education (ACE).

The report, Choice of Institution: "Changing Student Attendance Patterns in the 1990s" describes where individuals who participated in higher education enrolled and how those patterns changed during the 1990s, using data from the Department of Education’s National Center for Education Statistics.

Among the key findings:

  • The share of undergraduates enrolling in community colleges increased from 39 percent in 1989 to 41 percent in 1999, resulting in an enrollment gain of approximately 248,000 students. Enrollment in community colleges grew by 14 percent during the 1990s, or approximately 5 percentage points more than all of higher education, which grew by 9 percent during the same time.

  • The share of dependent undergraduate students (typically unmarried students age 24 or younger) attending community colleges grew from 26 percent in 1989 to 30 percent in 1999. Despite this growth, dependent students are still less likely to attend community colleges than independent students who are older and may be married and/or have children.

    The issue brief also maps out significant losses in enrollment at the nation’s for-profit less-than-four-year institutions.

    Among the key findings:

  • The proportion of students attending for-profit less-than-four-year institutions dropped from 5 percent to 3 percent, with the biggest migration occurring among low-income students.

  • The declining share of students choosing for-profit institutions resulted in a 32 percent drop in enrollment. This change is likely due in part to significant contraction in this portion of the for-profit sector. There were approximately 1,000 fewer for-profit institutions participating in federal student aid programs in 1999 than a decade earlier.

  • Family income influences choice of institution, but not necessarily in expected ways. Dependent students from higher income families are more likely to attend public and private not-for-profit four-year institutions. By contrast, as independent students’ income rises, they are more likely to attend community colleges and less likely to choose public four-year institutions.

  • There was no clear pattern to enrollment changes in the public and private not-for profit four-year institutions. Decreases in the share of middle-income dependent students choosing public four-year institutions generally were offset by increases in the share of independent students choosing these institutions. Similarly, decreases in the share of the lowest- and highest-income dependent students choosing private not-for-profit institutions were offset by increases in the share of middle-income dependent students enrolling at these institutions.

    "These data make clear that students’ choice of institution follow few consistent rules. Nonetheless, two clear conclusions are that community colleges became a more popular choice for dependent students at all income levels during the 1990s and that for-profit less-than-four-year institutions lost a sizable share of enrollment, especially among the lowest income students," said Jacqueline E. King, director of ACE’s Center for Policy Analysis and author of the issue brief in a press release.

    [Source: American Council on Education]

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