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College enrollment trends might seem like stats that don’t really impact your life. But if you’re considering college or your teenager is starting the process, some trends—and how to overcome them—are worth knowing about.

Enrollment in college peaked in 2010, when over 21 million Americans were registered.

Attendance has declined steadily since then. By 2014, the most recent year for which data is available, enrollment had dropped by more than 812,000 students, according to government figures.

The drop appears to be heaviest among low-income students. Data suggests college enrollment among these students dropped by 10 percent between 2008 and 2013.

Overall degree completion rates have fallen as well. More than 40 percent of students who start a four-year college leave without earning a degree.

Why are college enrollment and completion rates trending down?

It’s likely due, in part, to factors such as an improving economy, higher job rates, and, in some areas, a decline in the number of high school graduates.

However, young adults struggling with the “should I or shouldn’t I?” college education decision may be taking another factor into consideration: student debt. A report by the Federal Reserve revealed that 29 percent of respondents without a college degree said they had never enrolled because of the cost. In addition, 28 percent of those who enrolled in college and then dropped out cited cost as the reason.

A college degree can add as much as $1 million to lifetime earnings.

Despite the cost, earning a college degree can be a smart investment. College grads earn about $1 million more in lifetime wages than high school graduates. What’s more, unemployment rates for those with a college degree are about half of those with only a high school degree.

So how will you pay for college?

Many young adults and their families look to traditional student loans to fund college costs. These loans currently tend to fall into two categories:

  • Subsidized: This is a needs-based loan in which the federal government covers the cost of interest that accrues while the student is enrolled. When the student stops taking classes or graduates, he or she is then responsible for paying back the principal as well as the interest that accrues from that point forward.
  • Unsubsidized: Students or parents who take out these loans are responsible for paying back the entire amount, including the principal and all of the interest.

While you can learn tips to pay off student loans quickly, you also may have financing alternatives that make paying off college debt more doable. For example, if you apply for an interest-free student loan, you pay back only the amount you borrow.

No-interest loans are a smart way to cover some college costs so you or a student you love can graduate with less debt—and more breathing room. Discover how students can apply for an interest-free loan from Lancaster Dollars for Higher Learning.