Fewer people are going to college, and some believe that’s a good thing. In particular, economists say it’s a sign of a booming economy. When the economy is doing well and jobs are abundant, people are less interested in attending a traditional four-year college. By the same token, when the economy is faltering, college enrollment rates tend to rise, as people seek any opportunity to learn new skills and gain employment.
The U.S. is in its longest-ever economic expansion—having marked 10 years of uninterrupted growth in June—and the unemployment rate has dropped to historic lows amid the longest streak of job creation on record.
That could help explain a new survey conducted by Northeastern University and Gallup that shows mixed sentiments in the U.S., the U.K., and Canada about the value of a college degree. While the majority of Canadians continue to believe in the value of a degree, their optimism isn’t shared in the U.K., where 41 percent of respondents expect a college degree to diminish in importance over the next decade. Thirty-six percent of Americans agree with their U.K. counterparts.
Alicia Sasser Modestino, an associate professor at Northeastern who has studied the relationship between employer demands and the labor market, says that counter-cyclical trends in college enrollment, and especially graduate school enrollment, are par for the course.