As the Job Market Improves, College Enrollments Shift

Six years ago, the United States plunged into a recession that reshaped the economic, political and social landscape. Although the end of the recession was declared a year and a half after it began, the U.S. is still recovering from the long-lasting effects as we attempt to return to pre-recession levels of GDP and unemployment.

One of the most affected industries of the recession was higher education, as new regulations and laws were passed to help students pay for a college education in hard economic times. As the national unemployment rate reached 10 percent in 2009, enrollments increased rapidly as displaced workers returned to college and students stayed in school longer with hopes of finding a job in a more favorable market. As the unemployment rate drops to 7 percent, the lowest in years, enrollment decreases as students return to the job market.

At Higher Ed Growth, we witnessed significant shifts in higher education over the past years as we connected students with leading colleges and universities. By analyzing our unique data, we have identified key enrollment trends in Arizona for the last two years that indicate another shift in the education industry.

From 2012 to 2013, the percentage of Arizona enrollments from high school students dropped from 80 percent to 57 percent as more students with some college experience returned to continue their education. Of the 2012 enrollments, 72% were for Certificate level programs, which dropped to 54 percent as Associates and Bachelor’s degree program enrollments increased in 2013.

There were noticeable shifts in the healthcare fields this year, as Medical Assisting dropped from encompassing 28 percent of Arizona enrollments to 11.5 percent, while other programs such as Pharmacy Technology and Physical Therapy increased. There were also significant decreases in the Automotive/Vocational and Computers/IT programs as Business and Criminal Justice/Legal enrollments grew from 2012 to 2013.

These changes in Arizona enrollments suggest that as a result of the improving economy, students are starting to move away from two-year vocational programs to more traditional four year degrees. As the unemployment rate continues to decrease, people are returning to college to improve their career position rather than to obtain or change a career. We expect to see these trends to continue as the economy improves, moving students through degree programs into the workforce.


Frank Healy is the president/CEO of Higher Ed Growth, a full-service marketing agency specializing in post-secondary education. Visit www.higheredgrowth.com for more information.


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