College Enrollment in Connecticut Through the 1990s
Among independent institutions, enrollments declined from 1989 (59,497) through 1993 (57,135), became roughly steady for a couple of years, and have been increasing gradually since 1996. In 1998, enrollment at the independents stood at 59,135, up 1.6% over 1997 and 3.5% above the low in 1993.
In contrast to the independents, Connecticut public colleges and universities have shown an almost steady decline from 1989 (108,757) through to 1998 (94,299). The 1998 figure is down 0.8% from the preceding year and down a full 13.4% from its peak in 1989.
Given that all four of the methodologies used to project public system enrollment called for an enrollment increase from 1995 to the year 2000, the failure of the public system thus far to reverse the downward trend in total enrollments is a matter of real concern. Is this a product of the lower than originally estimated state population? Were the Department of Higher Education's projection methodologies too optimistic? Or is there a more fundamental, systemic problem with the capacity of Connecticut's public institutions of higher education to attract and retain students? These questions cannot be answered at this time, but either public system enrollment must begin to turn upward in the near future or the projections made by the Department of Higher Education in 1997 will have to be revised downward.
If the varying patterns of Connecticut's demographics really are driving enrollment at the state's colleges and universities, then as the number of traditional college-age persons in Connecticut increases and the number of persons 25 to 44 years of age declines, this should be reflected in the ages of enrolled students. What has happened to the age distribution of undergraduate students during the 1990s?
As shown in Table 2, the undergraduate enrollment of persons less than 25 years of age (generally, the traditional college-age student) declined from 1989 through 1996, as the last of the so-called "demographic trough" passed through Connecticut. This was true both for Connecticut's publics and for all institutions of higher education in the state. In 1997 and 1998 the numbers of traditional college-age students enrolled as undergraduates in Connecticut higher education increased. These gains in traditional college-age students, though not dramatic, are both real and expected.
Age Patterns of Undergraduate Students Enrolled at
Connecticut Institutions of Higher Education
|All Institutions*||Public Institutions|
|Under 25||25 or More||% 25 or More||Under 25||25 or More||% 25 or More|
*All Institutions includes the U.S. Coast Guard Academy.
At the same time, the numbers of older undergraduate students (25 years or more) now have begun to decline rather significantly. The total number of older undergraduate students peaked in 1992 (47,533) for the system as a whole and in 1993 (37,006) for the state's public colleges and universities. After these peak years, the enrollment of older students has consistently declined, again following the state's demographic patterns quite closely.
Since 1996, when the number of traditional age undergraduate students was at its lowest point, the number of these students less than 25 years of age has increased by 2,325 or 5.0% at Connecticut's public institutions of higher education. During the same time, the number of undergraduate students 25 or older has declined by 3,464 or 10.1%. Thus, despite the gradually increasing numbers of traditional age undergraduate students enrolled at Connecticut's public institutions of higher education, overall public system enrollment continues to fall.
The University of Connecticut
The enrollment patterns of the University of Connecticut (UConn) closely and predictably follow Connecticut demographic trends (see Table 3).
Enrollment at the University of Connecticut
Undergraduate enrollment at the Storrs Campus, which is primarily traditional age students, fell for six consecutive years from 1990 through 1995. As the number of traditional college-age persons in Connecticut rose in the mid-1990s, so did Storrs undergraduate enrollment. In 1998 there were 11,715 undergraduate students at Storrs, up 2.4% from 1997 and up 3.1% from the low point in 1995.
Undergraduate enrollment at UConns branch campuses, across the board, tended to follow the pattern of Storrs, with a two-year lag. At the branch campuses undergraduate enrollment declined from 1990 through 1997 and then turned up in 1998. By contrast, graduate and first-professional enrollment at UConn generally grew through the early 1990s up to 1995. Since 1995 post-graduate enrollment has declined dramatically from 8,306 in 1995 to just 7,044 in 1998. This, too, tends to follow the decline in the number of older (25 to 44) persons living in Connecticut which began in the early 1990s.
In 1989, UConn enrolled 2,294 undergraduates 25 years of age or older; in 1995 there were 2,268. In 1998 there were 1,520 such students, a decline of 33.0% in the last three years.
To what extent do out-of-state and foreign students supplement UConns enrollment of local students? As seen in Table 4 on the next page, from 1991 through 1997, the total number of out-of-state and foreign students varied from 3,713 (1997) to 3,764 (1994). While the number of out-of-state and foreign undergraduates attracted to UConn in 1998 was up 8.7% (from 1,837 in 1997 to 1,996 in 1998), the number of non-Connecticut graduate and first-professional students dropped 15.4% (1,876 in 1997 to 1,587 in 1998). Thus, the total number of out-of-state and foreign students at UConn in 1998 stood at its lowest level (3,583) in at least a decade.
Out-of-State and Foreign Students Enrolled
At the University of Connecticut
Connecticut State University
Undergraduate enrollment at the four Connecticut State Universities (CSU), like those at UConn, generally have followed the patterns of the state's demography (see Table 5).
Enrollment at Connecticut State University
Under 25 Years
25 or Older
At CSU, the number of undergraduates under 25 years of age declined from 1990 (21,474) through 1996 (17,435) and has climbed in each of the last two years (17,671 in 1997 and 18,479 in 1998). By contrast, the number of older undergraduates (25 and above) peaked in 1992 (9,126) and generally has gone down since then. In 1998 there were just 6,936 (down 24.0% since 1992) such students.
Although the number of graduate students at the CSU campuses is down in 1998 (7,631) from 1989 (8,613), graduate enrollment at these institutions has been quite steady during the period 1991 through 1998.
New, Freshman Students at Both UConn and CSU
One important measure of where enrollment may be going is the trend in numbers of new freshman students at particular institutions. The longer term impact of the total number of new freshmen will be affected by institutional retention rates, and numbers of new freshmen have little or no consequence on graduate enrollment. Still, without more new freshmen it is very hard for an institution to grow.
These numbers dropped dramatically at both UConn and at CSU during the early 1990s. In 1989 there were a total of 8,094 new freshmen at these five, Connecticut public universities; in 1994 there were only 5,751. Beginning in 1995 these numbers turned upward at both UConn and at CSU. This past fall (1998) UConn had 3,227 new freshmen, up 116 over their total in 1989, and CSU had 4,076. The CSU number is the highest it has been in eight years, but is still 907 short of 1989. In total, as seen in Table 6, there were 7,303 new freshmen at the five public universities in 1998, down 791 below the level in 1989.
New, First-Time Freshmen at the University of Connecticut
And at Connecticut State University
Demographics and enrollments do not link quite as closely at the Community-Technical Colleges (CTCs) as they do at UConn and CSU. Perhaps this relates to the special occupational mission of the CTCs and the proposed connection between CTC enrollment and the state of the Connecticut economy.
Since 1989 enrollments of CTC students less than 25 years of age have varied up and down in a relatively unpatterned manner. On the other hand, CTC enrollment of older students (those 25 or older) peaked in 1993 (26,069) and has declined every year since then. In 1998 there were 22,240 such students enrolled at these 12 colleges (see Table 7 on the next page).
Enrollment at the Community-Technical Colleges
25 or Older
Interpreting the enrollment patterns of Connecticuts independent institutions of higher education is more complex than for the publics because the national independents (Connecticut College, Trinity College, Wesleyan University, and Yale University) tend to draw the bulk of their enrollments from out-of-state while the regional and two-year independents attract primarily Connecticut residents. Connecticut demographics do not match the national demographic picture. Connecticut's population is older, and the number of younger persons in Connecticut makes up a distinctly smaller portion of the total population than is the case for the nation as a whole. Even so, the demographic forces at work in Connecticut and in different ways across the nation are reflected in the enrollment at Connecticut's independent colleges and universities, as seen in Table 8.
Enrollment at Connecticuts Independent Colleges
Less than 25
25 and Older
Across all independents, the number of older (25+) undergraduates has declined rather consistently beginning in 1992 (10,748) and continuing through 1998 (8,803). By contrast, undergraduate enrollment of traditional age students (24 or younger) fell from 1989 (30,653) through 1993 (28,250) and generally has increased since. In 1998 there were 31,822 traditional age undergraduates at Connecticut's independent institutions of higher education.
In 1990, Connecticut's independents enrolled a total of 59,100 students. While these colleges and universities lost students during the early 1990s (the low was 57,135 in 1993), in 1998 they were back up to 59,135, virtually identical to 1990s level.
There were 136,147 Connecticut residents enrolled in Connecticut colleges and universities, both public and independents, in 1990. Since 1990 that number has steadily decreased (see Table 9). Whatever the reason a smaller population pool to draw from, greater migration of Connecticut high school graduates to colleges in other states, a lower participation rate of Connecticut residents in higher education generally, or some combination of the three in 1998 there were only 118,043 Connecticut residents attending college here in-state.
In-State, Out-of-State, and Foreign Students
Enrolled at Connecticut Institutions
Of Higher Education
More than half of the students enrolled at Connecticuts independent colleges and universities come from Connecticut. To that extent, these institutions are dependent on Connecticut demography just as the publics are. As the pool of potential college-going Connecticut residents contracted through the 1990s, so the enrollment of Connecticut residents at Connecticut independents also declined. In 1990 these schools enrolled 35,291 people from Connecticut; in 1998 it was 30,603.
At the same time, Connecticut independents throughout the 1990s have been more and more successful at bringing out-of-state and foreign students onto their campuses. In 1990 there were 23,809 non-Connecticut residents at the independents; in 1998 the number was 28,532. Because of these effective out-of-state recruitment efforts, the total enrollment at Connecticut's independents is higher in 1998 than it was in 1990. By contrast, out-of-state and foreign enrollment at Connecticut's public colleges and universities peaked in 1990 with 7,904. In 1998, the publics enrolled just 6,921 out-of-state and foreign students (see Table 9 on the previous page).
From the mid-1980s on, minority enrollment in Connecticut higher education has risen each year. As seen in Table 10, 1998 was no exception. This year, 26,688 minority students enrolled in the state's colleges and universities, up 3.2% over 1997 and up 43.1% over 1989. What has been extraordinary about this trend is that it has come in the face of progressively lower overall enrollments. In other words, the general declines in the enrollment at Connecticut's colleges and universities would have been considerably worse if minority enrollments had not grown as they did. This is a significant accomplishment.
Minority Enrollments in Connecticut Higher Education
|Total Minority Enrollment|
When the Department of Higher Education made its projections of public system enrollment out to the year 2020, it did so based on a number of fundamental assumptions regarding the linkages between higher education enrollment in Connecticut and the demographics of the state. Virtually all of the enrollment data presented in the following summary of trends since 1989 confirm the soundness of those assumptions.
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