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College Enrollments Expected To Drop

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Next fall, colleges and universities may experience the first twinges of the major long-term enrollment decline officials have been awaiting, according to a new tally of applications s freshman classes at 274 four-year institutions.

The survey, conducted by John Minter Associates for The Chronicle of Higher Education, found that 43 percent of the schools reported having received fewer freshman applications at the end of last December than they had in hand at the same point the previous year. At the end of December 1980, only 30 percent reported a decline from the previous year's total at the same point.

Moreover, as of December 1981, according to the Chronicle's survey, the number of applications received by the responding schools had increased by only 1.6 percent from the year before. The December 1980 increase over the previous year's December total was 13 percent.

Schools in the Southeast have reported the sharpest drop in freshman applications (down 3.4 percent), while schools in the Northeast and Mid-Atlantic regions noted an 18.5-percent increase.

Colleges have long been bracing for the decline because the annual birthrate has warned educators that the number of 18-year-olds would shrink by about 23 percent over the coming decade from its 1979 peak of 3.2 million. Institutions have expanded their market to include women, foreign students, older adults, and part-time students--who now constitute upwards of 30 percent of all college students--but most officials have predicted even these "new students" would not effectively offset the drop in the traditional college-age population.

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