While all schools will feel the pain of lower enrollment, it’s the smaller colleges that will hurt the most.

Megan McArdle writes at Bloomberg News.

Why Your Little Alma Mater May Go Extinct

The Wall Street Journal has a sobering note today on higher education. After soaring for decades, college enrollments have actually declined for the classes scheduled to enter this fall.

“Enrollment rates for numerous smaller and lesser-known colleges and universities are falling this year, due to a decline in the U.S. college-age population, years of rising tuition, increasing popularity of Internet courses and a weak job market for recent graduates. …

“After decades of growth, college enrollment nationally dropped 2.3 percent this spring, compared with spring 2012, according to a report released by the National Student Clearinghouse Research Center. The decline is poised to continue. The number of U.S. high-school graduates peaked at 3.4 million in 2010-2011 and is projected to fall to 3.2 million by 2013-14, according to the Western Interstate Commission for Higher Education. The dip in graduates has been particularly pronounced in the Midwest and the South.”

My first thought was “good.” The college students I meet today seem to endure excessive admissions agony, in large part because getting into a good school is so much harder than it used to be. I could never be admitted to any of the schools I went to today, because they’ve gotten so much more selective since I applied. Most of the people I know say the same. Harvard now rejects almost 19 out of every 20 people who apply. Penn, my alma mater, rejects five out of six.

The result is that upper middle class kids spend their high school years desperately trying to acquire the credentials to get into a top school — “founding” dubious charities, doing “enriching” academic programs and “volunteer” work that will give them something about which to write an essay showcasing their ability to confront the tough realities of poverty, class and social obligation.