The Chicago Fed Study Concludes:
In this article, we examine how postsecondary enrollment changed during the Great Recession and how this change compared with the experience of earlier recessionary periods. We show that there have been large increases in two-year, four-year public, and four-year private enrollment since the start of the Great Recession, although these increases are only slightly larger than we would have expected based on the historical relationships between unemployment and enrollment. However, the increase in enrollment is significantly larger than we would have expected if the unemployment rate had remained at 2007 levels.
We find suggestive evidence that enrollment increases were similar among men and women but that enrollment rates for older adults, African American/black individuals, and Hispanic individuals increased more quickly during the Great Recession relative to their pre-recession trends than enrollment rates for younger individuals, whites, and people of other races and ethnicities. Overall, we estimate that roughly 2.1 million more people enrolled in postsecondary education between 2007 and 2010 than we would have expected based on the change in the enrollment rate between 2004 and 2007. We find that this increase is a result of increases in the enrollment rates within labor force status groups rather than shifts in the population across groups. Using a simple cost–benefit analysis, we estimate that these individuals may experience an average net lifetime benefit of $1,500 each, or roughly an additional $3.3 billion overall.
Read the entire study at the Chicago Fed.