Record Enrollment, Record Bachelor’s Degrees Granted

Virginia’s colleges and universities produced a record number of graduates with bachelor’s degrees in Virginia in 2016-17, reports the State Council of Higher Education for Virginia (SCHEV). Of the 54,508 bachelor’s degrees awarded, 24,405 degrees were in STEM disciplines (science, technology, engineering, and math).

Virginia continues to make progress on the Virginia Plan for Higher Education, which aims to make the Old Dominion the best educated state in the country by 2030. To attain that goal, the percentage of Virginians with a college degree or workforce credential must increase from 51% to 70%.

“Of all the jobs created since the Great Recession, 99% of them went to individuals with more than a high school diploma,” said SCHEV Director Peter Blake. “This can be in the form of worker training, credentials or degrees. The Commonwealth needs a well-educated workforce to succeed in the world economy. Virginians need to keep their skills sharp to succeed in work and life.”

Defying the ever-escalating cost of attendance, undergraduate enrollment at Virginia’s public four-year institutions increased 2% over the previous year, reaching 174,032.

“Baccalaureate enrollment has set record levels for 25 years,” wrote Todd Massa, director of policy research, in a report to the council. “Even with dramatic changes at individual institutions, Virginia public higher education remains a highly desired destination.”

With 36,297 students enrolling for the 2017-18 school year, George Mason University was the largest four-year institution in Virginia. Virginia Tech was second largest, with 34,440, followed by Virginia Commonwealth University with 31,036.

Bacon’s bottom line: Virginia’s public colleges keep on raising tuition, but they keep on growing. I’ve been warning that the cost of attendance can’t continue climbing as it has in recent decades without pricing students out of the market. So far, Virginia’s higher-ed system has proven me wrong. While institutions have increased the list price of tuition, they have discounted it for students from lower-income families, thus keeping tuition affordable for poorer students.

Still, I maintain there are limits, and we may be seeing them at some institutions. Despite system-wide gains, enrollment declined 5.7% at the University of Virginia’s College at Wise, 2.1% at Norfolk State University, and 0.6% at Virginia Commonwealth University.

Last May the VCU board approved a 3.8% tuition & fee increase for in-state undergraduate students. During the run-up to that decision, I opined that a big tuition hike created a big risk for a non-elite institution like VCU. “The board will need to pay close attention to the market consequences. Will fewer students apply to VCU? Will VCU become less selective in whom it accepts?”

Well, we now know one consequence: VCU ended up with 182 fewer students. I haven’t had a chance to analyze the data but here’s what I would expect: Demand held up for programs where VCU is strong — the School of the Arts, the Brand Center — but eroded badly in disciplines where it is weak. If I have a chance, I’ll dig into the data and report back if I’m right or wrong.

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5 responses to “Record Enrollment, Record Bachelor’s Degrees Granted

  1. Any analysis like this really needs to look at the eligible pool. How has the number of college graduates tracked with the population of college aged citizens of Virginia. You also have to look at in-state vs out-of-state graduates. Making Virginia the best educated state in the country means educating Virginians – where they were Virginians before they went to college and stayed of out-of-staters who stayed in Virginia after graduation.

    I also wonder why the same demographic arguments applied to the Baby Boomers aren’t applied to their children, the so-called Echo Boomers. Most definitions of Echo Boomers define the generation as being born in the 80s and 90s. If you accept that, the last of the Echo Boomers are 19 years old in 2018. So, I would see a falloff in college applications (and eventually graduations) starting roughly this fall. It will be interesting to see how this demographic affects Virginia’s colleges and universities.

  2. I think DJ makes an important point: ” You also have to look at in-state vs out-of-state graduates.”

    Virginia colleges , at least the better known ones only need to keep their prices low compared to other states colleges tuitions.

    What might be interesting would be to look at Virginia’s out-of-state college students… to see if there is a pattern of where they come from.

    My suspect is that they don’t come from states which offer their in-state kids – affordable tuition. It’s those kids coming to Virginia school that keep demand for Va schools high enough for them to continue to increase tuition.

    The part that is missing from this blog post:

    ” the percentage of Virginians with a college degree or workforce credential must increase from 51% to 70%”

    how do these break out? How many, what percentage are “workforce credentials” and am I correct in thinking the majority of them are coming from Community colleges?

    Which by the way – SHOULD BE our focus…

    We want kids that graduate and get jobs… and 4 yr liberal arts or even 4yr STEM or STEAM is not the only path and some kids the best path for them at the first go-around might be Community College – which if not mistaken has managed to keep tuition affordable.

  3. Like Jim, I believe demand for higher ed is going to prove to be elastic and the high prices will eventually take their toll. The improving job market will be part of the reason. Debt already is taking a toll, and I’m sure a record number of degrees will also produce record student debt.

    I also think increasing demand and opportunity for those with key workforce credentials may also start to cut into the baccalaureate ranks. But since the state target is both degrees and credentials combined, they covered themselves for that eventuality. It is always important to pick the right metric!

  4. College for kids.. is like their first car a prom dress.. a wedding.. etc.. …. Parents will sell their souls to the devil to get the things their kids want and nothing better illustrates that than the insatiable demand for 4yr college no matter the cost , no matter the debt.

    There are LOTS and LOTS of ways to get a GOOD marketable education without buying the snazzy top-of-the-line model…

    I don’t think the demand is elastic… I think there will always be a certain number of folks who will go that route… if they can get the dollars – and today College Loans are like PayDay loans.. … super easy to get…

    Kids who have never had to pay back a loan – just can’t fathom what it’s like… sorta like wanting that new car and totally oblivious to how much the insurance will cost…

  5. Jim’s post says:

    “Virginia’s colleges and universities produced a record number of graduates with bachelor’s degrees in Virginia in 2016-17, reports the State Council of Higher Education for Virginia (SCHEV). Of the 54,508 bachelor’s degrees awarded, 24,405 degrees were in STEM disciplines (science, technology, engineering, and math).”

    As I read these numbers of degrees awarded and how they were characterized in SCHEV’s various announcements and claims, I keep thinking to myself “I wish these numbers were accurate but I doubt that they are”.

    For example:

    Take the claim that “24,405 degrees were in STEM disciplines (science, technology, engineering, and math)” – If this were true than this would indeed be a truly remarkable achievement.

    But the literature that I have read on the subject generally says on average nationally only around 16% of our college students enroll in STEM courses. And that a significant numbers of these 16% of students (nearly 40%) end up dropping out of their majors in STEM courses. This very high drop out rate is typically because STEM courses require far more effort and skill than students today can bring to the task, or are willing to apply to the task, and this problem is magnified given the rampant grade inflation that hides performance in non STEM courses. So most flee STEM to easy college courses today where almost no work is require to pass with grades as high as A and B.

    For another example, take this quote:

    “Virginia continues to make progress on the Virginia Plan for Higher Education, which aims to make the Old Dominion the best educated state in the country by 2030. To attain that goal, the percentage of Virginians with a college degree or workforce credential must increase from 51% to 70%.”

    How can this be a realistic goal if all our serious testing of academic achievement and cognitive capability tells us that, applying the most optimistic analysis, only 20% of our youth nationally are capable of meaningful achievement doing College level undergraduate work? And other experts put that number substantially lower than 20% irrespective of the quality of teaching, whether in high school or college. If this be true, and it almost surely is given the reasoned and much studied opinion of serious educators, then the real question is this:

    How many of these 54,508 bachelor’s degrees awarded in Virginia last year represent at best an achievement level equal to a high school diploma awarded in 1960, and how many represent an achievement equal to equivalent Baccalaureate degree awarded in 1960? Likely not a majority.

    This is not meant to deprecate Virginia schools, which surely are among the best in the nation. It is only to suggest that are schools ought not be operated on standards and claims built solely on myths. Nor should students’ educations and college degrees be considered commodities to be bought and sold in the open market like bananas or a Virginia Is For Lovers campaign designed to lure tourist traffic to Shenandoah’s Natural Bridge.

    I seems obvious that leaders in Virginia tend to view every issue in the Commonwealth through the lens of Business. Perhaps the members of the State Council of Higher Education for Virginia (SCHEV) need to better appreciate that the education of youth is not All About Business, and that their Council has a higher calling than that of a state Chamber of Commerce.

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