Highlights from Higher Ed: Declining Enrollment, Test-Optional Trends, Higher-Ed Inflation, Grad School ROI

Dec 28, 2022

Six-year completion rate remains essentially unchanged

The national six-year completion rate — which indicates the percentage of students who graduated after enrolling six years earlier — was virtually unchanged in 2022 (62.3%) compared with 2021 (62.2%), according to the National Student Clearinghouse Research Center (NSCRC). This year’s report, which focuses on students who enrolled for the first time in 2016 and graduated by June 2022, includes full- and part-time students at two- and four-year institutions. “NSCRC data portrays students’ diverse pathways to college completion that increasingly includes moving between institutions and across state lines, re-entering colleges after stopping out, and changing between full-time and part-time enrollment.” Private, nonprofit four-year institutions had the best six-year completion rate (77.8%), followed by public four-year schools (68%). The lowest rates were at private, for-profit schools (47.6%) and public two-year colleges (43.1%).

Source: Forbes

The number of applicants submitting test scores has plummeted

The number of colleges and universities requiring applicants to submit SAT or ACT scores has fallen from 55% in 2019 to just 4% today. During the same period, the number of applicants who included test scores in their early Common App submissions fell from 78% to fewer than half. That data “could mark a watershed moment in admissions, college advisers say, when a pandemic pause in SAT and ACT testing requirements evolved into something more permanent.” The number of “test-optional” colleges now exceeds 1,800, including the majority of “elite” public and private institutions. The nation’s first test-optional policy was enacted at Bowdoin College in Maine in 1970, but the onset of the pandemic dramatically fueled the trend. “Experts see little downside. By accepting test scores but not requiring them, a selective college often finds that its SAT and ACT averages go up, because students with lower scores don’t submit them.”


Higher-ed inflation just rose at the highest rate in more than 20 years

It became a lot more expensive for U.S. colleges and universities to do business in fiscal year 2022 (July 2021 through June 2022). According to the Commonfund Higher Education Price Index, inflation rose 5.2% at higher-ed institutions, the steepest hike since a 6% increase in fiscal year 2001. Last year, higher-ed inflation rose just 2.7%. The lowest rate, 0.9%, was recorded in 2010. In 2022, all eight expense categories tracked by the index — faculty salaries, administrative salaries, clerical salaries, service employee salaries, fringe benefits, miscellaneous services, supplies and materials, and utilities — got pricier. Utility costs topped the list with a 43.1% increase, followed by supplies and materials (21.5%). Faculty salaries went up just 2.1% following a 1% increase the previous year. “Regionally, increases in faculty salaries ranged from a high of 3.2% in the New England region to a low of 0.1% in the East South Central region.”

Source: Commonfund

Grad student debt levels threaten to reduce their return on investment

The fact that graduate students are taking on more debt in order to complete their studies may cause them to realize a lower return on investment from their education. From 2000 through 2016, the number of students who graduated with a master’s degree and had taken out loans to pay for school rose from 47% to 60%. Among those who completed a professional degree, it rose from 75% to 81%, and among those who finished a doctoral degree, it rose from 44% to 51%. “The median debt among borrowers who completed master’s degrees nearly doubled in under two decades after adjusting for inflation, rising to $60,945 in 2016 from $36,157 in 2000… [T]he typical earnings for workers with graduate degrees have held steady after increasing in the late 1990s and early 2000s.”

Source: Higher Ed Dive


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