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College enrollment rates decrease nationwide, increase slightly in Arizona

(Photo :Tom Story/ASU)

PHOENIX — College enrollment rates are down nationwide for the fifth year in a row, but students continue to enroll in Arizona colleges, according to a new study from the National Student Clearinghouse Research Center.

The number of students enrolled in college in the fall 2016 semester dropped 1.4 percent from the fall 2015 semester. More than 19 million students enrolled nationwide this past fall, compared to 19.2 million who enrolled in 2015.

Arizona colleges have seen a positive enrollment rate over the past couple of years, even though enrollment numbers are not increasing as rapidly as officials might hope.

More than 418,000 students enrolled in Arizona colleges in fall 2014, a 5.2 percent increase over the previous year. But the rate slowed down to 2.9 percent in fall 2015, when more than 430,000 students enrolled. The rate declined even further in fall 2016, with 436,400 students enrolling for a 1.3 percent increase over the previous year.

“We have not seen a lot of change with the number of high school graduating seniors enrolling in college. The real variation is with adults,” said College Depot Director Judy Reno. College Depot is a free, secondary education planning program available at the Phoenix Public Library.

Reno said the decrease in college enrollment rates can be almost entirely attributed to a specific group of people: Adults over the age of 24 who are already employed.

“When adults to find work and decent paying jobs, they don’t tend to go into higher education,” she said. “We see a little bit of a downward trend.”

But Reno admitted the trend reverses when there is an economic downturn and adults head back to college in hopes of finding a new job.

The number of students who enrolled in graduate school actually rose 1.5 percent in the fall 2016 semester, from 2.6 million to 2.7 million enrollees in the past year.

Reno said private, for-profit colleges such as University of Phoenix are seeing a decrease in college enrollment rates “because of all of the issues with closures and there have been various scandals.

Arizona open and hiring: If you’re looking for job openings, visit

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