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College Enrollment in the 1980's: Projection and Possibilities

Centra, John A.
Publication Year:
Report Number:
ETS Research Bulletin
Document Type:
Page Count:
Subject/Key Words:
College Board, Enrollment Projections, Higher Education, Statistical Analysis, Trend Analysis


Enrollments in United States colleges and universities have climbed to record levels in the past 25 years. Recently, however, much of this has changed, or is changing. The size of the college-age population will begin to decline. Projections made for the 1980s and their underlying assumptions are analyzed. The forecasts are based on extrapolations of recent trends for different groups, plus some educated guesses about future conditions. Each of the forecasts are compared and contrasted to determine whether some general agreement exists. Forecasts by region of the country and for different types of institutions are discussed. Possible new clientele and other ways proposed to increase college enrollments are considered. The 1977 edition of "Projections of Education Statistics" presents projections by the National Center for Educational Statistics (NCES) to 1985. Projections of total enrollment are listed here in tabular form. High and low alternative projections made by NCES are also included. The Carnegie Council in 1974 projected enrollments to the end of the century. These projections summarized here are considerably lower than those made by Carnegie in 1971. The majority of the forecasters take a moderate view of future growth. The projected enrollment declines in the first half of the 1980s will have followed a five-year period in which enrollment showed only modest gains or even occasional dips, as in 1976. This was the first time enrollment had declined in 25 years. A 1977 American Council on Education (ACE) report estimated state enrollment levels by 1985. The estimations for each state focused on the projected 18-year-old population and were based on three factors. The first was that continued regional shifts in the population to the South and West would result in many states having a larger college-age population in 1985 than in 1975. A second factor was the expected enrollment rates of 18-year-olds at institutions within their home states. The third factor considered was the historical migration patterns of students between states. Trends by type of institution are discussed. Adults, women, and minorities are frequently mentioned as groups that could alleviate projected enrollment declines in the 1980s. That any of these groups will have a dramatic effect on enrollment in the 1980s seems unlikely. Transfer students and 12th grade programs are discussed, as is increasing student aid. (SGK) (39pp.)

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