College enrollment is almost down to pre-recession levels

College enrollment levels are down.

Enrollment peaked in 2011 and has since fallen to around pre-recession levels, which can be seen in the chart below shared by BAML’s US economists Michelle Meyer and Lisa C. Berlin.

Although the positive benefits of a good education cannot be overstated, this might not be a terrible sign for the US economy. As Meyer and Berlin explain succinctly: “When there is high unemployment, people will attend school given the lack of job opportunities. In other words, the opportunity cost of school declines during recession.”

Notably, although the BAML team didn’t mention graduate school specifically, it’s worth nothing that a similar trend happens there. When times are tough and soon-to-be-college-graduates can’t find jobs, they sometimes opt to wait out the crisis while getting a master’s or PhD.

In any case, Meyer and Berlin concluded that “once sufficient time has passed since the crisis, we suspect college enrollment will return to an upward trajectory.”

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