A baby boom 'echo' and scarce job openings have sent college enrollment soaring. Schools are straining to keep up.
The University of Houston seniors sit on a bench outside the student center, eating Trix from a Ziploc bag and watching the crush of humanity. This year, there's even more humanity to see: Here, and across the US, campuses are experiencing record enrollments and spiraling demands on bulging, budget-strapped schools.
"This is the most students we've ever had," says senior Jason Faircloth, adjusting his backpack. "It makes for a lot of school spirit, but it also makes for ... longer waits. And the parking situation oh, man." Enrollment here is at an all-time high of 34,455 a 4.6 percent jump. And UH is not alone:
At some schools, growth is stunning. Kansas State University's enrollment leapt 25 percent this fall; California State University San Marcos saw an 18.8 percent jump.
For the first time, Washington State colleges accepted more students than the state will help fund. At one point, the University of Washington had 350 in line for beds.
The pressure is perhaps starkest at community colleges, which are seeing double-digit enrollment rises as students hunt for tuition bargains. Traditionally open to all, some two-year schools are now turning people away.
Part of it, say experts, is the baby-boom "echo," as children of boomers hit college a demographic blip that will ebb over the next decade. But a rapid immigrant influx and the souring economy have also made enrollment swell.
All this comes at a time when states, facing massive shortfalls, are cutting higher-ed budgets, universities are increasing tuition, and students are seeking more financial aid.
"We expected big increases from [the baby boomlet]. We knew those kids were coming," says Jacqueline King, director of the Center for Policy Analysis at Washington's American Council on Education. But what experts didn't expect was a simultaneous recession, sending people back to school in hopes of staying marketable. And that, amid huge budget cuts, is creating a "double whammy," says Ms. King.