New Degree Data Could Be A Disastrous Sign For Universities

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Alexa Schwerha Contributor
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The number of undergraduate students who completed their degrees declined during the 2021-2022 academic year, which could be a negative sign for universities, according to a new report published Thursday by the National Student Clearinghouse Research Center (NSCRC).

There were approximately 58,000 less completions, or 1.6%, from the 2020-2021 academic year, the report revealed. The finding marks the first decline in the annual number of undergraduate degrees earned in a decade, with data tracking back to the 2012-2013 academic year, and correlates with previous data showing that the overall number of students enrolling in higher education institutions is on the decline. (RELATED: College Enrollment Remains In Decline Even Post-Pandemic)

The decreasing number of undergraduate degrees awarded correlates with a drop in the number of first-year students enrolling in colleges and universities, according to the report. In total, the number of first-year students has declined by 50,700 students, or -1.9%.

“The combination of the enrollment declines during the pandemic, weak motivations to pursue a college degree in the strong job market, and the underlying demographic declines likely drove this decline,” Mikyung Ryu, NSCRC research publications director, told the Daily Caller News Foundation. “These declines were as expected by many, suggesting that graduate numbers already started to catch up with college enrollment declines, which were accelerated during the pandemic.”

In total, the number of students enrolled at a college or university is 1.1 million fewer than in 2019, before the Covid-19 pandemic, the NSCRC reported in February. The decline may be attributed to imposed COVID-19 mandates, increased tuition cost and less importance being placed on college degrees as more employers remove the requirement, experts previously told the Daily Caller News Foundation.

“Pandemic-era mandates proved that colleges are often authoritarian, irrational, and not any fun, so many high school students chose to delay college or chose other paths,” Adam Kissel, visiting fellow on higher education reform at the Heritage Foundation, told the DCNF. “That’s a main reason we saw a larger dip in recent years and some recovery this academic year.”

The number of associate degree competitions among first-year students declined 7.6%, but first-time certificate earners increased 9%, NSCRC found. Students who earned a bachelor’s degree after first completing their associate dropped by 2.5%, while the NSCRC says “caused the overall non-first-time graduate numbers to slide for the first time in a decade” by 0.8%.

The sharpest declines were found in first-time graduates 25 years old and older, according to the report. Graduates in that age group declined 4.1% compared to graduates aged 24 and younger, which declined 1%.

“If it continues to trend downward, which is likely, it is going to be a major blow to many states’ efforts to increase the postsecondary attainment rates to develop a highly-educated workforce,” Ryu told the DCNF.

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