Building Capacity, Slowly

On a day that President Obama reinforced his call to increase the number of Americans in college, the federal government released data showing that higher education’s capacity is growing, albeit too slowly to meet the goal set by the president and others.

The data also continue to show that a disproportionate share of the growth can be attributed to for-profit colleges, which are expanding at a rapid clip.

In a speech to the U.S. Hispanic Chamber of Commerce Tuesday, Obama reiterated his goal of having every American attend at least one year of college and having the country reclaim its mantle as the nation with the highest proportion of college graduates. To reach that goal, which has also been a focus of groups like the Lumina Foundation for Education and the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, the college going rate would have to increase by significantly more than half over the next 15 years.

Data released by the U.S. Department of Education’s National Center for Education Statistics Tuesday show higher education capacity growing at a significantly slower rate than that. The annual report, "Enrollment in Postsecondary Institutions, Fall 2007; Graduation Rates, 2001 & 2004 Cohorts; and Financial Statistics, Fiscal Year 2007," offers a first glimpse at data from the Integrated Postsecondary Education Data System, which is the government’s primary method for tracking a variety of student and institutional data.

According to the report, colleges and universities that qualify to award federal financial aid enrolled nearly 18.7 million students in fall 2007, up about 2.6 percent from 2006 and about 5.42 percent since 2004’s total of 17.7 million.

Enrollment at publicly supported institutions grew by 2.4 percent from 2006 to 2007, enrollment at private nonprofit colleges increased by 1.5 percent, and enrollment at private for-profit colleges rose by 7.22 percent. For-profit institutions have maintained that pace over a three year period, and since 2004, their share of all enrollments grew to 7.9 percent of the total college population, up from 6.7 percent.  Read full story.  (Inside Higher Ed)

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