Enrollment in VT Colleges on the Decline


VERMONT — As Middlebury works to accommodate a growing student body, colleges and universities across the state are struggling to draw students to their programs. 

The National Center for Education Statistics (NCES) reported that the total enrollment in Vermont has been steadily decreasing, from 60,872 students in the 2009-10 school year to 57,889 students in 2015-16. 

The trend is also rampant at the national level, which witnessed a drop from 27.4 million total students enrolled to 26.96 million students enrolled between 2014 and 2015, a drastic plunge from the 29.5 million students attending colleges and universities in the fall of 2010.

“When there are enrollment challenges, there are financial challenges.””

— Barbara Brittingham

Smaller schools, such as Goddard College in Plainfield, Vt., are taking the brunt of the issues brought on by under-enrollment. Between 2010 and 2018, Goddard’s enrollment has plummeted from 804 to 438, Goddard officials told VTDigger. They reported that this shift has had a direct effect on budgeting.

“Institutions that don’t have a big endowment or another source of significant income, tend to have their finances tied pretty closely to their enrollment,” Barbara Brittingham, the president of the New England Commission of Higher Education, told VTDigger. “So when there are enrollment challenges, there are financial challenges.”

It remains unclear why students choose to enroll heavily in some schools while turning down others, but the overall decline in enrollment has been largely attributed to two factors, said Jason DeWitt, a research manager at Clearinghouse Research Center.

“When the economy’s good, college enrollments tend to go down, at least for working adults,” DeWitt said in an interview with NPR this past May. 

The second factor, according to interviewer Elissa Nadworny, is the shift of U.S. demographics. As shown in data collected by the U.S. Census Bureau, the number of college-aged citizens is on the decline, a factor that results in fewer prospective students.

Furthermore, many Vermont residents worry that local students are seeking degrees out-of-state, a claim, however, not supported by data collected by NCES. The data, though it shows a small decrease in in-state scholars over the years, does not appear significant enough to make the difference responsible for Goddard’s hardships.

Such a claim is further debunked by data reported by the University of Vermont, which saw its in-state first-year student body increase by 14.9 percent between the 2016 and 2017 school years.