Study Shows Enrollment Rise

Despite a recent study’s findings that college enrollment hit an all-time high in October 2008, the College has not seen dramatic fluctuations in its enrollment number in the past years.

According to a Pew Research Center study released last week, 39.6 percent of all 18- to 24-year-olds—or 11.5 million students—were enrolled in a two- or four-year college last October. The increase derives primarily from dramatic growth in community college enrollment, according to the study.

Other factors contributing to the increase in enrollment include the “great recession” and an all-time high in the number of high school graduates—not to mention that the upswing continues a long-term trend, according to Richard A. Fry, a senior researcher at the center and the author of the study, which evaluated data from the U.S. Census Bureau.

Fry said that the study is of “limited particular relevance to Harvard,” given that the College has typically seen an excess demand for a limited number of seats—whereas community colleges are able to adjust enrollment figures in accordance with applicant numbers—and that the primary surge impelling the surge in enrollment occurred in the context of community colleges.

Marlyn E. McGrath ’70, director of admissions at the College, said that the population that contributes to the surge in community college enrollment does not typically correspond to Harvard’s applicant pool.

Though enrollment numbers will not see any drastic changes, the admissions office is running ahead of the number of applications that it had received at this point last year, according to McGrath. She said that the overall increase in applications to the College over the past few years can be attributed in part to a greater value placed on a college education.

“I would not be surprised if we had something of an increase,” McGrath said about application numbers, noting that a definitive figure is premature.

Linda A. Cross, director of media relations at the Extension School, said that the School has seen a steady increase in course enrollments, particularly for online classes.

This increase is likely independent of the results of the Pew study—which surveys 18- to 24-year-olds attending college—as 75 percent of Extension School students already have college degrees, and the average student is 32-years-old.

Fry said that the study’s importance lies in its recognition of a nationwide phenomenon.

“I don’t think this is earth-shattering,” Fry said. “[It] confirms what, anecdotally, people have noted at the local level.”


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