An examination into why the college enrollment rate is dropping.
An FKD Feature exclusive

Anyone who has been through the college admissions process remembers the anxiety it caused. With tracking down letters of recommendation, finding SAT or ACT scores, making sure transcripts were sent, and the endless essays about why you would be perfect for that school — the entire process was daunting and caused nightmares starting from the first day of freshman year.

While I was going through the process, I could not believe the amount of effort and hours it took just to apply for enrollment in higher education. Now the number of new students going to college is dropping. The rate of on-campus student enrollment has been falling for the past five years. Let’s examine why.

Declining number of high school graduates

First, the amount of students graduating high school has been dropping. The reason for this drop is due to there simply being fewer teenagers in the country. A study from The National Center for Education Statistics generated quantitative data about what students will look like for the 2022-23 school year. The Northeast is expected to have up to a 14.8 percent drop in students in K-12 education. The biggest drop is projected to be in Texas, with a 20.5 percent decline in students.

But the biggest reason for the drop in students enrolling in on-campus college programs are the alternate higher education credentials that have recently become available.

Alternate credentials

With technology being so important to our modern working age, programs have been developed to quickly teach skills such as marketing, business management, statistics, robotics, solar energy and countless others. Programs such as MicroMasters offered at schools such as Boston University, Columbia and Australian National University are focused on technical and special-skill training. MicroMasters programs are open to anyone, but certain classes do have prerequisites like any other school. The tuition for this program is much cheaper as well.

At MIT, a master’s degree in supply-chain management costs nearly $70,000. The MicroMasters is just $1,350. MicroMasters is essentially a cheaper, more accessible way to take graduate-level courses. The program also can be all online, so you can keep your day job and access the information when needed.  Having online enrollment for the courses also makes it easier for people already in the work field who want to learn new skills but do not want to restart the process of college applications and student loans. Completion of the program gives the student a MicroMasters student credential. It is not a completed master’s degree, but students still get certification in the specific course of their choosing.

Georgia Tech released an online master’s program in Computer Science in 2014 that only costs $7,000. This Master’s Program proved to be very popular as it had more than 5,000 students enrolled by 2017. While some may see online enrollment as inferior to an in-class experience, students are becoming less engaged with their professors. Charles Isbell, a senior associate dean at the College of Computing, helped start the program at Georgia Tech. Even he recognizes the student-professor relationship is changing.

“I never see students at my office hours,” he said.

A few linger after class to ask scheduling questions, but that’s about it. Some students will talk with him after class to inquire about scheduling, but that’s the only student interaction he sees outside of class. Students online can have live conversations with their professors, ask questions to their classmates, and offer feedback immediately,  providing a collaborative, online learning setting.


A college education is very expensive in the U.S., so online learning or credited programs that cost less than a dorm room are obviously becoming more popular. The college experience is expected to change as technology progresses. Perhaps on-campus enrollment will fade, and more affordable online enrollment models will become the new normal.

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Header image: Adobe Stock


Posted 10.04.2017 - 11:00 am EDT