May 21, 2019

HIGHER EDUCATION BUBBLE UPDATE: Enrollment Shortfalls Spread to More Colleges.

A broad swath of private colleges across the Northeast and mid-Atlantic regions are expected to miss their enrollment goals for the fall semester. That growing trend now includes some institutions that have rarely, if ever, had to worry about filling classes.

Bucknell University, for example, expects that its freshman class this fall will be about 2 percent smaller than planned, or a total of roughly 960 students, said William T. Conley, its vice president for enrollment management. . . .

“I do get the sense that more than a handful of highly selective colleges missed their enrollment targets this year,” said Robert Massa, who still talks with enrollment professionals across the country after a 45-year career in financial aid and admissions. He retired from Drew University in February.

Ithaca College, which enrolls nearly 5,500 undergraduates, is larger and less selective than Bucknell, admitting about 70 percent of its undergraduate applicants. But the college, in upstate New York, will have some 175 fewer freshmen and $4.6 million less in tuition revenue than planned, said its president, Shirley M. Collado.

Several other college officials and higher-education consultants confirmed that they are seeing enrollment problems at numerous institutions.

The reasons for the enrollment shortfalls, said Massa and others, are complex and tied to several factors. Those include the declining number of high-school students across the regions, families’ increasing sensitivity to tuition and other costs, questions about the overall value of a college degree, and the ease with which students can apply to and consider multiple colleges.

If only there had been some sort of warning. It’s telling, though, that the idea of increasing sensitivity to costs, and of questions about the value of a college degree, now get matter-of-fact treatment, where these ideas were controversial not long ago.

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