College Enrollment Increases during Economic Downturn

The Washington Post recently featured an article on how community colleges and the more inexpensive public four-year colleges are experiencing significant increases in enrollment during the current economic downturn. The article indicates that college enrollment peaks during times of economic instability. But why are so many people going back to school?

The obvious reason is that these individuals want to be a cut above the rest, so to speak, when they apply for jobs—especially younger students who are looking to launch a solid career in a saturated job market. They want that competitive edge over their peers. And the ability to compete for a job has never been more important than now, as the nationwide jobless rate sits at 9.9 percent.

Another reason college enrollment is up is because older individuals who are dealing with mid-career layoffs are going back to college to get equipped with new skills for new industries as they discover jobs in their line of work have dried up and may never return. For example, many who were laid off in the manufacturing industry have had to accept that outsourcing has claimed one too many of their jobs and have decided to prepare themselves for a different industry entirely.

These individuals know that employers tend to prefer—and sometimes even require—employees to be prepared at the bachelor’s level. Employers prefer job candidates with bachelor’s degrees for two reasons: one, because it shows that an individual has the dedication it takes to complete what they start, and two, because it gives employers slightly more confidence that a job candidate has received additional training in problem-solving, writing and communication above the high school level.

While a bachelor’s degree doesn’t guarantee employment, it certainly helps your chances. In fact, some employers don’t even care what type of bachelor’s degree a job candidate has, just so long as they have a degree. Other times, a specific job position may not necessarily require a degree, but an employer will choose a candidate with a degree over one who does not because he or she perceives the degreed candidate as being more qualified.

Finally, people are earning a bachelor’s degree so they can earn more money. Those who hold bachelor’s degrees have higher salaries on average and lower rates of unemployment on average than those who do not, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. Taking all of these reasons into consideration, it’s no surprise that college is looking more appealing than ever to us during these troubled economic times.