Enrollments at public, 2-year institutions

There has been a lot of conversations recently about the enrollment numbers of institutions, specifically enrollments at 2-year institutions, and the trends that have been shared based on different institutional characteristics, but namely Sector. The sector of an institution is a combination of their Control and their Level. IPEDS defines control as the “classification of whether an institution is operated by publicly elected or appointed officials or by privately elected or appointed officials and derives its major source of funds from private sources”.  This classification breaks down into three categories: 1) public institutions; 2) private not-for-profit institutions; and 3) private for-profit institutions. The level of an institutions is defined as the “classification of whether an institution’s programs are 4-year or higher (4 year), 2-but-less-than 4-year (2 year), or less than 2-year”. When the two categories are combined, they form the sector, which is a combination to create “one of nine institutional categories”. For this data analysis, we are focusing on the public, 2-year institution sector.

In our public Tableau reports, we have analyzed the publicly available enrollment data from fall 2000 to fall 2019 on all sectors of degree-granting institutions that report their data to IPEDS. Since we began analyzing these data sets in fall 2012, we have always reported our data based on how the institution’s sector is reported in IPEDS. We are very clear about this point, especially because public, 2-year institutions have, over time, become public, 4-year institutions. We recognize this impacts the overall enrollments for the sector, but we also recognize the degree programs and student enrollments are different between a public, 2-year and a public, 4-year institution. There is no distinction in IPEDS between an associates degree level enrollment and a bachelor’s degree level enrollments. All undergraduate students are classified as either degree/certificate-seeking or non-degree/certificate-seeking. This is one reason why we report based on how the institution is categorized in IPEDS. The other reason we report based on how the institution is categorized is because these sectors change as institutional governance and structure change. We will highlight the impact of these changes on public, 2-year institutions specifically but before we get to that, let us reflect on what has been reported.

Enrollments at public, 2-year institutions
Enrollments at public, 2-year institutions

Since fall 2000, enrollments at public, 2-year institutions have declined 9%, from 6,126,361 students to 5,548,642 students, for a total decline of 546,503 students. At the height of the last recession, in fall 2010, there were 1,153,856 more students enrolled at public, 2-year institutions over fall 2000. This peak in enrollment reflects an increase of 18.9% from fall 2000 but a decline of 23.5% since fall 2010. Public, 4-year and private, not-for-profit, 4-year institutions have all gained enrollment since fall 2010, 13.2% and 6.3% respectively. The question remains, if public, 2-year institutions that have become public, 4-year institutions were still reflected as the former in enrollment reports, would the decline at the public, 2-year sector be as steep? That is what we will try to answer next.

Between fall 2000 and fall 2019, there have been 1,161 institutions classified as a public, 2-year institution. Some institutions started as a public, 2-year and changed sectors, others started as a public, 4-year and changed sectors. The chart below reflects the different sectors by years. There are 20% fewer public, 2-year institutions in fall 2019 than there were in fall 2000, 856 compared to 1,072. In contrast, there were eight public, 4-year institutions in fall 2002 and there were 145 in fall 2019. Fall 2002 was utilized as the reflective point because The University of Texas at Brownsville, a public, 4-year institution, reverted to Texas Southmost College, a public, 2-year institution, in fall 2016.

The enrollments at institutions that have remained public, 2-year from fall 2000 through fall 2019 reflect the 2008 recession bump and enrollment decline after fall 2010. Those 2-year institutions that transitioned to public, 4-year, reflect more of the overall public, 4-year institution growth after fall 2010. In fact, public, 4-year institutions experienced a 109% increase in enrollments after fall 2010 compared to the decline of 23.5% from the remaining public, 2-year.

Beyond enrollments, more analysis and research needs to be conducted on the degree level at which students are enrolling in the former 2-year institutions. The bump in enrollment, compared to the other 2-year institutions, would suggest that students are choosing the baccalaureate pathway or more students are choosing an institution that provides more options without the need to transfer to another 4-year institution. Without the degree level enrollments, it is difficult to settle on that conclusion. One conclusion that is clear, former 2-year institutions that have re-classified as 4-year institutions, are doing better, overall, in enrollments than their 2-year counterparts. Also, in fall 2010, the former 2-year institutions comprised 8% of the total 2-year enrollments and in fall 2019 this has gone up to 20%, at just 145 institutions.