College enrollment fell nationwide in 2013, for the second year in a row, as the pool of 18-year-old high school graduates continues to shrink and fewer adults are returning to campuses to earn credentials. It seems everyone is concerned about the numbers for different reasons. College officials worry about filling beds in empty dormitories; policymakers fret about producing enough college graduates to remain competitive in a global economy.
But do the numbers of students in college really tell us that we’re on our way to living in a less educated country? Not at all. The official higher-education enrollment figures fail to capture a shift in how more of us are locating educational opportunities every day in short spurts, online or face to face, and for hundreds of dollars or at no cost.
After years of talking about lifelong education, the rhetoric has finally reached reality. Accessing education no longer requires months and years of planning, countless applications, tapping savings or taking out huge loans, and giving up months or years of your life to match some random institutional schedule.