After years of growth, enrollment in college dropped slightly in the fall of 2011, according to a new report of preliminary data from that year released on Tuesday by the U.S. Department of Education.
The "First Look (Preliminary Data)" report, "Enrollment in Postsecondary Institutions, Fall 2011; Financial Statistics, Fiscal Year 2011; and Graduation Rates, Selected Cohorts, 2003-2008," is based on data from the more than 7,000 colleges that receive federal student aid under Title IV of the Higher Education Act.
About 18.62 million undergraduates were enrolled in such institutions in 2011, down from 18.65 million the year before. Graduate-school enrollment also fell, to 2.93 million students in 2011 from 2.94 million in 2010.
While the report does not spell out possible reasons for the declines, for-profit colleges have seen their enrollments drop, in part because of the weak economy and scrutiny of the sector, and state budget cuts have reduced capacity at some public institutions.
Nearly 59 percent of first-time, full-time students seeking bachelor's degrees, or the equivalent, who entered college in 2005 graduated from the institution where they began within six years, the report says
The department plans to release a full report on the data in December.