Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Recession Effects on Opportunity for Higher Education

I am looking at indicators that describe disruption in college access, choice and retention that students are facing and adjusting to because of the current economic recession. Here is what I have found in data so far:

So far college continuation rates for recent high school graduates do not appear to be affected. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the college continuation rate for recent high school graduates was at a record high in October 2008. Data are from the Current Population Survey. The 2009 data will not be available until spring.

Data from the annual UCLA survey of American 4-year college freshmen show sudden and significant deterioration in college choice beginning in 2006. Up to that point about 70 percent of 4-year college freshmen reported that they were enrolled in their first choice college. This share then dropped to 67.3% in 2006, 64.1% in 2007 and 60.7% in 2008. At the same time the share of these freshmen reporting that the offer of financial assistance was an important factor in their college choice rose from 34.3% in 2006, to 39.4% in 2007 and 43.0% in 2008. However, the share of these 4-year college freshmen reporting that there was a major concern about their ability to finance their college education dropped from 13.2% in 2005, to 11.6% in 2006, 9.5% in 2007 and 10.9% in 2008.

Pell Grant recipient data points to a record low share of recipients enrolled in public and private 4-year colleges and universities. These data are from the Office of Postsecondary Education, which administers the Pell Grant program. This a long term issue, but one that has sped up during the recession. In FY2007 a record low 45.0 % of Pell Grant recipients were enrolled in 4-year colleges. This dropped to 44.0% in FY2008, and a preliminary 41.3% for FY2009.

ACT has published data on frosh-to-soph persistence since 1983. We are looking at these data now. For all college freshmen this persistence rate to the sophomore year at the same institution dropped from 68.7% in 2006, to 68.1% in 2007, to 66.1% in 2008, to 66.2% by 2009. We have much more analysis to do of these data, but this factoid jumped out at me when I started graphing the data.