LITTLE ROCK, Ark. — Preliminary data shows the number of students at universities and colleges in Arkansas has dropped nearly 5 percent since fall 2012, partially due to fewer students enrolling at the state’s two-year colleges.

According to the Arkansas Department of Higher Education, nearly 167,000 students were enrolled at state institutions this fall. In 2012, more than 170,000 students were enrolled. The state’s public community colleges saw an almost 19 percent drop since fall 2012.

The Arkansas Democrat-Gazette ( reported that decreasing enrollment in state colleges and universities is a nationwide trend.

Tom Harnisch, director of state relations and policy analysis at the American Association of State Colleges and Universities, said enrollment has slowly but steadily fallen since the end of the recession, mostly for economic reasons. According to a National Student Clearinghouse report, the biggest drops in enrollment were at for-profit institutions and then community colleges.

Officials have also shifted their focus from enrollment numbers to graduation rates.

“I think that (enrollment is) going to be less and less important as we move along,” director of the Higher Education Department Maria Markham said. “We are shifting away from quantity of enrollment to quality of the student experience.”

A funding method that will go before legislators as a bill this spring would reward colleges and universities in which students — especially first-generation or low-income students — progress from year to year and ultimately graduate.

Officials hope to increase the percentage of certificate and degree holders in the state from nearly 40 percent to 60 percent by 2025.

Information from: Arkansas Democrat-Gazette,

VIAThe Associated Press
The AP is one of the largest and most trusted sources of independent newsgathering. AP is neither privately owned nor government-funded; instead, as a not-for-profit news cooperative owned by its American newspaper and broadcast members, it can maintain its single-minded focus on newsgathering and its commitment to the highest standards of objective, accurate journalism.