July, 2001, Vol. 124, No. 7
Expenditures of college-age students and nonstudents
Geoffrey D. Paulin
Senior Economist, Division of Consumer Expenditure Surveys, Bureau of Labor Statistics.
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As the U.S. workforce comes to rely increasingly on computer technology, including the Internet, higher levels of education are becoming necessary to produce efficient users, programmers, and inventors of new systems. The importance of higher education in this "new economy" is underscored by the tremendous increase in college enrollments over the last 10 years, despite a shrinking college-age population: in 1987, there were about 18.8 million persons between the ages of 20 and 24 in the United States; by 1997, that figure dropped to less than 17.5 million. Yet, college enrollments for this age group increased from 4.1 million in 1987 to 5.2 million in 1997. In other words, college participation among members of this age group increased from less than 22 percent to nearly 30 percent in those 10 years.1
While these changes have been occurring, the cost of a college education has been rising. From 1987 to 1997, the Consumer Price Index for college tuition and fees rose 111 percent, compared with 41 percent for all other goods and services. Undoubtedly, this increase in prices has made it more difficult for some potential students to attend college on a traditional, consecutive 4-year basis. This group of young people may choose to join the labor force for a period of time in order to save money toward their continued education. Still other potential students may be forced off the college path altogether.
1 Data derived from U.S. Census Bureau, Statistical Abstract of the United States: 1999, 119th edition (Washington, DC, 1999), p. 202, table 326. The age group described (20 to 24) is the closest in the tables to the one used in this report (18 to 22).
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