Is College Worth the Price Tag? Undergraduate Enrollment Drops in US

By Paulina Cachero

Undergraduate enrollment at US colleges and universities is dropping as more students question whether the costs of getting a degree are worth it. 

The number of undergrad students dropped 1.1% this year, and is now down 4.2% since 2020, according to preliminary data from the National Student Clearinghouse.

“We’re seeing smaller declines, but we’re in a deep hole,”  said Doug Shapiro, the NSC’s executive research director. 

College degrees are seen as a key step on the path to financial success in the US. But with tuition and fees surging, and student loan debt hampering millions of Americans, there are growing signs that higher education is losing some of its luster. 

The number of freshmen enrolled at colleges and universities this fall slipped 1.5%, a trend Shapiro called “particularly troubling.” Affordability and debt concerns have been especially acute for US families, with household budgets battered by inflation.  Meanwhile, a strong labor market may have enticed some high-school graduates into the workforce instead. 

At this point, it’s unclear if President Biden’s plan to forgive student debt and change the system for how federal loans are repaid will change the calculus on college for US students. 

The NSC preliminary data includes enrollment from 62% of institutions as of Sept. 29, representing 10.3 million undergraduate and graduate students.

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