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Colleges stare down enrollment declines

| Sunday, Nov. 24, 2013, 12:01 a.m.

A growing number of colleges nationwide are scrambling to fill classes, a trend analysts say is driven by a decline in the number of students graduating from high school and widespread concern among families about the price of higher education.

The admissions upheaval at schools ranging from lower-tier colleges to esteemed regional ones contrasts with the extraordinary demand for the most elite colleges and universities.

Demographics pose a major hurdle for many colleges that market primarily to high school students. The number of new high school graduates peaked in 2011, after 17 years of growth, and is not projected to reach a new high until 2024, according to the Western Interstate Commission for Higher Education. Analysts and educators expect that a rising share of incoming students will need major financial aid.

The economic recovery is hurting enrollment because fewer people go to college when jobs are available.

Nationwide, college enrollment fell about 2 percent this past school year.

All of this means a new bottom line for colleges, said Brian T. Prescott, the commission's director of policy research. “They've got to sweat whether or not they're going to be able to make their classes, in ways they didn't before,” Prescott said.

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