Why People Turn to Education When Facing a Recession
Historically, when the economy is in a recession, Americans tend to pursue higher education for marketability and career advancement. The Great Recession brought the worst economy that Americans had seen since the Great Depression. From late 2007 to late 2009, the unemployment rate jumped to approximately 10%. By the end of the recession, over 15 million people were out of a job.1
However, while the general economy spiraled, higher education saw an increase in enrollment of nearly 16%, as 18.1 million people enrolled in undergraduate programs in fall 2010—compared with 15.6 million undergraduates in fall 2007.2 “Generally speaking, recessions lead to enrollment increases for many schools,” says Bob King, executive vice president at Collegis Education.3
Working Adults Fuel the Growth in College and University Enrollment
Who was responsible for this massive growth in enrollment after the Great Recession? “Higher education is generally a countercyclical industry to the economy. When more people are unemployed, in particular, there are more adult learners in school,” King says.3
Doug Shapiro, the National Student Clearinghouse Research Center’s executive research director, agrees that working professionals often drive this migration to higher education, as was the case following the 2008 recession. These nontraditional students largely turned to community colleges or online universities,2 such as Walden University. This trend went beyond bachelor’s degrees to include master’s or doctoral degrees, as well as professional certificates available in a wide range of areas.
As Shapiro says, the reason it took three years from the start of the recession for the enrollment numbers to rise so dramatically is that most workers don’t turn to higher education until they use up their unemployment compensation. He explains that once the decision is made to return to school, the process—which includes the college search and applications—takes time. “When the reality sets in that they’re not going to find another job, then they start thinking about school,” Shapiro explains. “And by the time they get through the whole process of finding a school and getting into a school, a year and a half to two years has gone by.”2
What Effect Has the COVID-19 Pandemic Had on Postsecondary Education?
Where the Great Recession saw huge gains in higher education enrollment, the economic downturn from the COVID-19 pandemic has not worked in quite the same way. In fact, by January 2022, college and university enrollments were down by more than 1 million compared to pre-pandemic times, according to research from the National Student Clearinghouse Research Center.4
As of fall 2022, the possibility of a recession looms large, and only time will tell if it affects higher education in the same way it did just 15 years prior. Though post-pandemic enrollment didn’t rise, what has increased is the need for online learning—something that isn’t going anywhere. “We will see changes in the prevalence of online learning, the application of technology in the classroom, and the way schools engage with their students,” King says.3
Advance Your Skills and Pursue New Opportunities With a Degree From Walden
Walden offers a variety of degree programs at the bachelor’s, master’s, and doctoral levels. In addition, graduate certificates are available in multiple academic areas—from a Graduate Certificate in Human Resource Management to Graduate Certificates in Adult Learning and Integrating Technology in the Classroom (K–12). Individual classes can also be taken through Walden’s School of Lifelong Learning.
Walden offers programs in fields that include:
- Business and Management
- Criminal Justice
- Health and Health Sciences
- Public Policy and Administration
- Social Work and Human Services
Walden University is an accredited institution offering a variety of online programs at the bachelor’s, master’s, and doctoral levels. Expand your options and earn your degree in a convenient, flexible format that fits your busy life.
Walden University is accredited by The Higher Learning Commission, www.hlcommission.org.
Whether looking for information on programs, admissions, or financial aid, we're here to help.
Fill out the form and we will contact you to provide information about furthering your education.
Please use our International Form if you live outside of the U.S.