The relationship between unemployment and university enrollment during a recession is explained by Becker’s work on human capital. Becker explains the economic consequences of getting an education (Heckman 2015, p.79). Empirical evidence shows that there has been an increase in university enrollment during all recessions since the 1960s. Becker explains that this is the expected outcome when there is a scarcity of jobs. The opportunity cost of attending school drops during a recession. This is because the job opportunities that one would forgo by attending college drop dramatically. It becomes increasingly difficult to secure a job and layoffs become a common occurrence. For those who do retain their jobs, it becomes increasingly difficult to get promoted (Parker, 2015). This aggregate of factors serves as motivation for people to enroll in universities to either improve their skills in their current area of specialization or acquire new skills which widen the range of sectors where they can work.

The University population is also high during a recession because people who would drop out to join the job market remain in school. Those who would take some time off between undergraduate studies and the graduate school also enroll immediately to graduate school to increase the value of their human capital. Parents and students may find it increasingly painful paying tuition fees and incurring other education-related costs, but they shoulder these costs because of the promise of better results in the long run as opposed to job seeking during a recession (Parker, 2015). In short, increased university enrollment observed during a recession is because education promises not only better chances of securing a job but also wage growth.


Heckman, J.J., 2015. Gary Becker: Model Economic Scientist. The American economic review105(5), pp.74-82.

Parker, C.B. (2015). The great recession spurred student interest in higher education, Stanford experts says. Stanford News. Retrieved from