By Staff

Vol. 1, No. 6, 1979, pp. 27-28

Women are now in the majority of college students in the South, according to an analysis by the Southern Regional Education Board (SREB) of preliminary statistics of last fall’s collegiate enrollment.

The SREB analysis also notes that, although there were significant declines in the number of full-time students attending Southern institutions, they were offset by continued increases in part-time enrollment, which was up 5.6 percent in the South.

Thus, enrollment in higher education remained essentially unchanged in the fall of 1978 over levels in the previous year, both in the South and the nation. Except for 1975, when there was a 10 percent increase in enrollment nationwide, the college population has not grown as dramatically in the 1970s as in the 1960s.

In 1978, the total headcount enrollment in the South increased only about one-half of one percent of about 2,950,000 students. Nationally, enrollment declined by 60,000 students, or less than I percent, out of a total headcount enrollment of more than 11 million.

The increase in part-time study in 1978 was not enough to counter the decline in full-time students, when the enrollment figures were converted to full-time-equivalent (FTE) terms which generally serve as the basis on which public institutions receive state funding. When viewed from a full-time-equivalent student perspective, both the nation and the South registered enrollment declines in 1978 – of 1.8 and 1 percent, respectively.

The small changes noted at the national and regional levels mask considerable fluctuation among the states and among kinds of institutions. In the South, changes in total enrollment in the public sector (which accounts for 85 percent of all enrollment) ranged from a 4.7 percent increase in Virginia (one of the most significant in the nation) to a decline of 4.5 percent in West Virginia. Nine of the 14 SREB states experienced declines or minimal increase (1 percent or less).

Fluctuations in enrollment were noted in the two-year college sector, where the student population dropped by nearly 20 percent in West Virginia and 10 percent in Kentucky. Substantial declines in two-year college enrollment were also noted in Arkansas, Georgia, and Louisiana. By contrast, significant enrollment growth continued in the two-year institutions in Florida, Tennessee, and Virginia.

Enrollment in private colleges and universities showed little change nationwide. In the South, eight of 14 states experienced declines, and six showed increases.

A drop in the number of male students enrolling full-time accounts for changes in many states. For example, public institutions in the South registered a 4 percent decline in full-time male enrollment in 1978, compared to 1977 levels. But this decline was balanced by significant increases in the enrollment of women, especially of those attending part-time.

For the first time since World War 11, women made up a majority of the enrollment in colleges and universities, with 50.1 percent of the headcount total in the South. In the fall of 1978, women accounted for more than half of the collegiate populations in nine SREB state.

E.F. Schietinger, SREB director of research, said the increase in proportions of women enrolled in the South can be attributed to the decline in the number of male students enrolling full-time, as well as to significant increases in the participation of women, especially those attending college.

Contrary to the trends in total enrollment, the number of first-time students showed small increases, both in the nation and the region, with gains of 1.8 and 1 percent, respectively.

While enrollment projections indicated that declines in the future can be expected because of the shrinking size of the college-age population, such demographic change does not account for this year’s losses, according to James R. Mingle, SREB research associate. He said some of the factors influencing lower rates of attendance in fall 1978 probably include:

1) students choosing jobs over further education in 1978, a year of relatively high employment;

Page 28

(2) increased federal audits of student aid applications, demanding documentation of a student’s financial background, which seems to have discouraged some students from enrolling and delayed others in receiving replies to their aid requests.

Dr. Mingle noted that year-to-year fluctuations in enrollment can be expected for the next few years, and said it is possible that a slowdown in the economy, coupled with another large pool of high school graduates anticipated in 1979, could produce increases again next fall.

“But, in the long term, as the size of the traditional college-age population begins to decline, both in the nation and the South, enrollment declines may be expected,” he observed.

While there will be fluctuations between 1978 and 1986, SREB’s projections of headcount enrollment in the South for 1986 show the same level of enrollment as in 1978. But, when the 1986 figure is projected on a full-time-equivalent basis, enrollment in the South may drop by as much as four percent between 1978 and 1986. This difference of more than 100,000 full-time-equivalent students is significant to the revenue and workload prospects of higher education. If an institution loses one full-time student, it needs to attract nearly three part-time students to recoup revenue losses.