As the world shudders under the weight of economic crisis, every aspect of American society is feeling the downturn. College campuses are no exception. Let’s take a moment now to break the zombie-like trance we float in from class to class and look at campus trends here at New River. Community colleges have different norms for class sizes and student age ranges than universities do, but parallel shifts in trends are seen across the spectrum of higher education.
Let’s look at NRCC’s total enrollment numbers for the past 13 years.
Note that the most dramatic upswing is from 2005 to last year, an increase of 17%. This rise in numbers coincides with the timeline of the economic meltdown.
As many people look to education to improve their job skills, colleges are experiencing shifts in age ranges of students. Higher amounts of high school students are attending college immediately after graduating, and older students have hit the campuses in record numbers. At NRCC we have unique age differences. The average age of students at New River was 26 in 2008, at Radford University it was 21.
When NRCC began offering full semester curriculums in 1988 the age ranges looked like this (in percentages):
45% of students were under the age of 21
Now here’s what we saw on campus in 2008:
The percentage of students under 21 has dropped nearly 10 percentage points, giving us the diverse student body we have today.
From teens to seniors more people are enrolling in institutions of higher education than ever before. Although our nation’s economy is part of the reason for this, it is also a major hindrance when it comes to dealing with the higher numbers. Will the new tuitions coming in be enough for institutions to compensate for higher costs and lower funding, without making education much harder to afford?
With huge numbers of incoming students we will see the country has an opportunity to bring about an educational revolution. We could have a new Renaissance in the United States, with more people obtaining degrees and expertise than we have ever seen. But at the same time, our economic panic could cause the opposite, a collapse of US higher learning. Less funding does not mix with higher demands. Our systems of learning could reach a new pinnacle of excellence, or could become the laughing stock of the entire educational community.