Why fewer students are enrolling in college

Aarthi Swaminathan joins the Yahoo Finance panel to discuss the dwindling numbers of students enrolling in college and the factors contributing to this low enrollment level.

Video Transcript

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BRIAN CHEUNG: Welcome back to Yahoo Finance Live. We're getting some fresh reads on the state of education. And the figures show college attendance really cratering during 2020. Yahoo Finance's Aarthi Swaminathan is here for the breakdown. And Aarthi, you've got a good piece that's on our site now that's focused on this Brookings paper that kind of breaks down what the impact of COVID was on enrollment. Give us the breakdown exactly what that looked like.

AARTHI SWAMINATHAN: Hey, Brian. So the number you referenced, basically a huge drop in enrollment is from census data that was released yesterday. So basically in 2020, college enrollment fell to the lowest since 2007. I calculated that this was somewhat of a 615,000 drop. And the declines were mostly concentrated in two-year colleges, community colleges, trade schools. Graduate enrollment had steady. You mentioned the Brookings Report.

Basically, we're trying to understand that why is it that since the 2008 recession, when we saw college enrollment increase, we're not seeing the same kind of gains. After 2008, enrollment actually increased by 1.9 percentage points. But now, this recession actually declined by 1 percentage point. And the Brookings study actually goes to say that, simply, it's simply the costs outweigh the benefits. Working is more lucrative than going to college and spending four years or three years at a college.

I also want to mention that the census report also references a drop in enrollment at nursery and preschools. Ages three to four enrolled in preschools, that dropped from 54% in 2019 to 40% in 2020. This is the first time since 1996 that fewer than half of the children in this age group enrolled. You know, it's really, especially if you're a working mom, the increasingly not really sending your children to nursery, that's a 35% decline of year over year, three to four-year-olds of working moms who are enrolling their children in nursery.

But going back to college, I just also want to mention that this is 2020 data. We saw that S&P, all these different houses were saying we're going to see a big enrollment decline because this may be because students taking a gap year. Not really sure because we don't see that kind of data yet for 2021. We're still waiting on that.

But I do have to note that applications have surged. We're going to have Colgate University on Friday on one of our shows, and they actually saw 104% increase in applications. So is it that the trend is already reversing within the year? I don't know, but it's still sort of scary to think how many schools didn't get students in 2020 and how that could have fiscal implications for the following years.

BRIAN CHEUNG: Yahoo Finance's Aarthi Swaminathan, thanks for breaking that down for us here on Yahoo Finance.

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