90.9 WBUR - Boston's NPR news station
Top Stories:
PLEDGE NOW
Here and Now with Robin Young
Public radio's live
midday news program
With sponsorship from
Mathworks - Accelerating the pace of engineering and science
Accelerating the pace
of engineering and science
Tuesday, January 15, 2013

Colleges In Crisis As Enrollment Dips

University of Washington students walk on the campus between classes in October 2012, in Seattle. (Elaine Thompson/AP)

University of Washington students walk on the campus between classes in October 2012, in Seattle. (Elaine Thompson/AP)

Enrollment at more than 40 percent of private colleges and universities declined last year, forcing the institutions to offer steep tuition discounts to fill seats.

Even with that, colleges began the academic year with a record number of spots still available, according to the non-partisan, non-profit education news organization, The Hechinger Report.

Hechinger education reporter Jon Marcus says the decline is partly because of demography – the number of students graduating from high school peaked in 2009 – but the more important factor is parents and potential students balking at high tuition rates and becoming more unwilling to take on debt.

As one admissions official told Marcus, “we’ve reached a tipping point – the cost of college is really beginning to alarm families.”

The crisis is also affecting public institutions.

States have cut the amount they spend on higher education by more than 10 percent in the last two years, bringing spending down to 25 year lows. The cost of attending community college has risen by almost 10 percent in the last year.

The development comes as public officials, including President Barack Obama, are trying to increase the number of Americans with post-secondary education.

Selected articles by Jon Marcus:

Is the college bubble finally bursting? Have tuition costs deterred you or someone you know from going to a private college/university? Let us know on our Facebook page.

Guest:

  • Jon Marcus, reporter with the education news service The Hechinger Report.

Please follow our community rules when engaging in comment discussion on this site.
  • Betsykburke

    My husband and I are numbers 8 and 9 in my family to have graduated from the same private university.  It is around $50,000/year now, and one can only assume it will get worse.  We, and other college friends, do not expect to be able to send our toddlers and pre-schoolers there in 2028.  Shouldn’t alarms go off when a school’s graduates can’t afford to send their children there?  I can only hope they offer a steep legacy discount reflective of the size of the legacy.

  • Portercat

    We have 3 kids and having been saving for over a decade for college.  The oldest is 4 years away.  We still haven’t saved nearly enough for even state schools.  It is not suprising that there is finally a backlash against institutions that up until now have had no incentive to cut costs. 

  • Kate

    We learned that a good college fit and the availability of merit aid can go together.  My daughter is now a sophomore at the same small liberal arts college that her dad went to.  She was a National Merit Scholar and had amazing AP scores, though not a straight A average.  The institution gave her a very generous and affordable (for us) merit aid package.  She – and we- couldn’t be happier with her experience.  She’s getting one on one attention from her professors, has peers with similar academic levels of achievement,  lives in a “theme” house where she has taken on some leadership responsibilities, and will hopefully graduate with  little or no student debt.  We have two more kids in the “pipeline” for college and will look for similar opportunities for them.

  • BHA_in_Vermont

    I’ve already told my daughter (a high school senior) that I don’t have a quarter million dollars to send her to college.

    I really have to wonder what these schools think they are giving the students for the $40K to $50K/year cost EXCLUDING room and board.

    Maybe they could charge less if they had fewer admins and they weren’t paid such ridiculous salaries and professors that taught full time for their salaries rather than teaching a couple of classes a semester and spending the rest of their time on research.

    • KG

       What doyou suppose they would teach if no one was doing research?

  • http://twitter.com/CollegeGamePlan Todd Weaver

    Students and parents need to work together to integrate the family’s financial goals (and ability to pay for college) with the student’s appropriate academic needs and wants from their college experience. It’s not about “name brand” schools (rings true today: see http://www.brookings.edu/research/articles/2004/10/education-easterbrook) but rather, where can a bright, driven student be successful and finish in 4 years (not 5 or 6!!) and become a contributing member of society. 

    Know the financial obligations/expectations before creating a list. Then create one that is filled with appropriate academic and financial opportunities for the student.

  • Going Bust in AZ

    We have one in (Back-in) Univ and one on the way.  Last year we had to file a leave of absence because it was unaffordable, thus opted for Community College which is same price, inflation adjusted, as the before mentioned Univ. 20 years ago with 15 to 30 students per class; now we have to return to finish upper division classes at 8x the cost and still have to deal with 60 to 80 students per class.  Our greatest fear…50/50% chance of relevant job offer on graduation!

  • JKO

    I was fortunate enough to go to a Four year private University free of tuition.  I worked full time in the maintenance department, and what could have been a four year degree turned into a seven year degree with no debt (plus I learned a trade).  The time was worth it. 

    Another benefit the school offers is what they call a “dependent grant and aid” which allows dependents to attend tuition free.  All they have to pay for is applicable fees and books.  My wife got through school with no debt as well. 

    I have many friends who have worked full-time jobs through college and have minimal loans.  It just takes a bit longer.

    I don’t believe that higher education is a right but a privilege that one must work for.

    • educated

      I agree, college students should work more and not view it as a time to ‘find themselves’, however I must say that your free tuition was only made possible through someone else paying full price, that is how it works.

    • jefe68

      How many years ago was this?
      If over 10 then it means nothing. Working a fulltime job now wont pay enough to go to college.

      • JKO

         I graduated this past spring.  My good friend graduated three years ago

    • Portercat

      Agreed, but part of this story includes the invisible transfer of tuition money meaning that some students (including International and out of state students) are subsidizing grants and other students’ tuition.   The point is not that student’s should work harder to afford escalating tuition as a “right”, it is that institutions should try and be more efficient, deliver an effective education and TRY and control costs.  There is NO good reason why tuition has escalated at a higher rate than medical expenses and everything else. 

  • dust truck

    I’ve got a great idea.  Make student debts dischargeable in bankruptcy!  Overturn the Bankruptcy act of 1998!

  • Richard Weis

    I am a recently retired Professor who spent over 40 years in education. There are many reasons that college costs have risen but one that has caught my attention through the years is the way the costs of technology and constant IT upgrades has increasingly taken larger and larger bites out of institutional budgets.  It would be interesting to document the rate of that increase and examine the way U.S. institutions are more and more held hostage by the Technology industries.

  • jimjogs

    Following the birth of my first of two children I took a second part-time job and put all the money I earned in that job over the next 23 years into a college fund for my children.  The last one graduated in 2011, both of them without college debt (my gift to them) and with the experience of watching mom and dad demonstrate that if you want something you work very, very hard for it.  They reciprocated by working very hard in school and earning merit scholarships and grants based on achievement to help me and themselves.  I’ve also noted that many, many parents do not even consider how they will swing college tuition until the child is in high school and have not saved a dime.   Not sure of a national answer, but we do not seem to mind (as taxpayers) funding wars overseas and maintaining a huge military, but get all riled up when the president moves to lower the interest rate on student loans.

    • Portercat

      Agree with some of this.  But what part-time job or even an investment keeps up with inflation at over 10+%  (annual tuition increases)?  The system needs to change, and that seems to be happening.  Many colleges are not meeting the needs of businesses today, and the market is repsonding with lower enrollments.  I hope it continues.   When online options (MOOCs) take hold, the demand curve may start to change even more drastically.  The answer is that colleges need to change how they charge for their services and deliver it BETTER, not just that people need to work harder.  Yes, working harder is important, but it is also important to be there for your kids as they grow. 

      • jimjogs

         It’s never the amount of time you spend with the children, it’s the quality of that time.  Little or no TV, no video or computer games, and no camps away from home in the summer.  Both kids out of college, no debt. living independently, wholesome in personality and personal life habits, and holding well paying professional jobs.  An old fashioned approach and good parenting skills.  It can be done.  Even a simple part-time job at $10,000 per year yields over $240,000 in twenty three years.  I am now retired yet within several months found a full time job.  An old fashioned work ethic is what escapes many people today.

        • Roedan

           It has nothing to do with an “old-fashioned” work ethic.  People in the past didn’t work harder than today.  That’s insulting.  I has everything to do with tuition inflation.  The market is adjusting to the reality that the cost:benefit ratio is askew.

          • Jimjogs

             Tuition inflation is the major issue and of that there can be no disagreement.  However, as a little guy I have no control over that issue.  What do I have control over?  Planning ahead and hard work.  When my grandparents came to this country from Italy and Ireland respectively they worked several jobs to set-up their new families.  My mom worked full-time and my dad worked two to three jobs to send their seven kids through college, and my wife and I did the same.  We also planned ahead and started saving for college when she was pregnant (unlike many parents who do not even think of saving for college until their kids reach high school).   My youngest just graduated from college (2011) and she and her brother (2007) worked for their college educations during the summers and in the classroom to earn merit scholarships and grants to help their parents and themselves out.  The entire family planned ahead and worked hard and that is what we can control.  Because of this work ethic they both graduated without debt (my son just received his PhD in Mechanical Engineering, working while he studied).  I just retired after a 37 year career as a School Psychologist and what did I do upon retiring, I got a full-time job.  As a therapist I always told folks to take control of their lives and not to let circumstances dictate to them.  My pension, plus the income from the full-time job will pay off my mortgage in four years and the rest will go to savings and travel.

            Hard work.  It’s old fashioned, but in the United States, it works.

          • Portercat

            By the way, pensions are old fashioned as well. Very few businesses offer them anymore. So, if you ask any retirement expert, most people should be saving for retirement ahead of their kids college education. Not saying you can’t do both, but it just got even harder. This is why higher education is in fact a bubble.

  • susiewatts

    As a private college counselor, I agree that something needs to be done to make college more affordable. We are seeing some private colleges making moves in the right direction by freezing tuition, but this is barely a start. I am not surprised at the dips in enrollment at some colleges where the cost is simply impossible to justify.

  • http://twitter.com/bobcampbell_az Bob Campbell

    Drives me nuts when people argue about how great a College degree is.  I got a 4-year degree 40 years ago in Bus. Admin at a highly recognized Institution.  Worthless!  Never once in business was I asked if I graduated from College.  I have been self-employed all my life and make a very comfortable living.  Education is over-rated.  Heck, most Colleges don’t even teach about our Founding Fathers or capitalism anymore.  When these Liberal blow-hards start to die off and are replaced by Conservative educators will our Country be great again. Until then, money can be spent in better places than our Institutions of Educational Socialism.

  • tina

    This is not the case for the top 50 or so schools. They are taking less students every year. There are still record numbers of applicants applying at top universities. My daughter just applied this year to college and I did not see any colleges desperate for my daughter to go there therefore giving us grants etc…these must be much lower schools in the rankings.

Robin and Jeremy

Robin Young and Jeremy Hobson host Here & Now, a live two-hour production of NPR and WBUR Boston.

April 21 Comment

Remembering Rubin ‘Hurricane’ Carter

We remember the boxing champion, who was twice wrongly convicted of murder, with his longtime friend and defender.

April 21 2 Comments

‘Wait Wait’ Host Peter Sagal Runs Boston Marathon As Guide

For the second year in a row, the host of NPR's "Wait Wait... Don't Tell Me" is running with a legally blind athlete.

April 18 12 Comments

When Your Life Is On Fire, What Would You Save?

Erik Kolbell's new book asks what's most important to us in life -- loved ones, possessions, personal beliefs and more.

April 18 3 Comments

Adrianne Haslet-Davis Becomes Advocate For Amputees

The professional ballroom dancer reflects on the struggles and triumphs of the year since the marathon bombing.