In the second part of my 5-part series on US colleges, I make the following point: college enrollment in the US has soared over the last 50 years, and a nearly finite set of colleges have sponged up the growth, free of new entrants.
Specifically, college enrollment in the United States has exploded over the last half century, up from about 4 million students in the late 1950s to more than 20 million students today. 65% of US high school graduates now enroll in college.
College enrollment growth has been driven partly by a large increase in the number of high school graduates in the US and partly by large public subsidies for higher education.
That college is increasingly common in American society is generally good news. Going to college is – or at least, should be – a recipe for all kinds of good outcomes for students and society.
But there is a glaring oddity in the college expansion story of the last 50 years.
Namely, for the last several decades, college enrollment growth has been monopolized by a nearly finite set of about 3,200 incumbent colleges that have accounted for 90-98% of college enrollment. These incumbents are approved in state law and have status as accredited institutions -- a status that grants them unique access to large public subsidies puts them in almost sole control of enrollment.