Undergraduate Enrollment Declines Nearly 8% and Community Colleges Drop 15% Since Fall 2019

Roughly two months into the second fall semester of the pandemic, postsecondary enrollment is now running 2.6% below last year’s level, according to the latest research by the National Student Clearinghouse Research Center. Undergraduate enrollment has declined 3.5% so far this fall, with a total two-year decline of 7.8% since 2019. However, graduate enrollment has grown 2.1%, which maintains the 2.7% upward trend from last fall.

The updated figures released today reflect 13.7 million undergraduate and graduate students combined, as reported by 74% of more than 3,600 Title IV degree-granting institutions that participate in the Clearinghouse as of October 21, 2021.

Undergraduate enrollment has declined across all institution sectors. Enrollment decreases in public four-year and private for-profit four-year institutions were steeper than last fall. This fall, public four-year institutions declined 2.5% vs a 1.6% loss last fall. Private for-profit four-year institutions this fall dropped 8.5% vs a 2.6% drop last fall. Enrollment at private nonprofit four-year institutions remained largely stable (-0.6%) while community college enrollment continued to fall, but at a slower rate than last fall (-6.0% vs. -9.4% last fall). Community college enrollment is now down a total of 14.8% since 2019.

Meanwhile, primarily online institutions, where more than 90% of students enrolled exclusively online prior to the pandemic, saw both undergraduate and graduate enrollments decline steeply (-8.9% and -8.2%, respectively) across gender and age groups, reversing growth experienced previous fall.

“Today’s data are largely consistent with last month’s report,” said Doug Shapiro, Executive Director, National Student Clearinghouse Research Center. “And with more schools counted, the continued downward trends raise even more troubling concerns for students and institutions struggling to recover from the first pandemic year.”

Enrollment continued to fall regardless of institution sectors, with the steepest drops in the private for-profit four-year and public two-year sectors. Within the four-year institution sector, highly selective colleges enrolled 3.1% more undergraduates this fall while less selective institutions continued a downward trend.

Among 46 states for which sufficient data are available, 41 saw drops in undergraduate enrollment compared to last fall. Among the states with the steepest declines were Mississippi (-9.2%), Indiana (-7.1%), New Mexico (-6.8%), and California (-6.5%), each of which also had double-digit decreases since 2019. Graduate enrollment is up in 40 states, with Maine, Georgia, Massachusetts, and Florida all experiencing growth over 6% this fall.

Last month’s research revealed, with 50.5% of institutions, representing 8.4 million students, reporting to the Clearinghouse as of September 23, undergraduate enrollment showed a decline of 3.2% since fall 2020. This echoed last fall’s 3.4% drop.

Other research updates include:

Overall undergraduate enrollments are down across all racial and ethnic groups, with White, Black, and Native American students falling the most, at about 5% to 6 % this fall. Nonetheless, at private nonprofit, four-year institutions, Asian (+2.7%), Latinx (+1.0%), Native American (+1.1%), and international student (+7.9%) enrollment grew. Enrollment continued to decrease in all racial and ethnic groups at community colleges.

International undergraduate students show another 3.1% enrollment drop this fall, but at the graduate level, a 12.7% increase fully makes up for the losses experienced last year (-7.0%). Graduate enrollment among Asian and Latinx student also continued growing this fall (+8.8% and +6.3% respectively).

Over the two-year period since 2019, both public, four- and two-year institutions saw larger declines in full-time than part-time enrollment (-4.8% vs. -0.8% for public four-year and -17.6% vs. -13.2% for public two-year institutions). At private nonprofit four-year institutions, there was a small growth in full-time undergraduates this fall (+0.2%).

Last year’s growth in MBA and education master’s program enrollments reversed this fall, with both majors showing enrollment declines (-1.4% and -3.9%, respectively). Growth in health fields slowed from last year (+0.7% vs. +5.3% last fall) but computer and information sciences, engineering, and biological and biomedical sciences experienced large growth this fall (+19.9%, +9.7%, and +9.5%, respectively).

For other details, review the Stay Informed with the Latest Enrollment Information.

In addition, the fall 2021 Current Term Enrollment Estimates is scheduled to come out on or around Wednesday, Dec. 15.

About the National Student Clearinghouse® Research Center™

The National Student Clearinghouse Research Center is the research arm of the National Student Clearinghouse. The Research Center collaborates with higher education institutions, states, school districts, high schools, and educational organizations as part of a national effort to better inform education leaders and policymakers. Through accurate longitudinal data outcomes reporting, the Research Center enables better educational policy decisions leading to improved student outcomes.

The Research Center currently collects data from more than 3,600 postsecondary institutions, which represent 97% of the nation’s postsecondary enrollments in degree-granting institutions, as of fall 2019. Clearinghouse data track enrollments nationally and are not limited by institutional and state boundaries. To learn more, visit https://nscresearchcenter.org.

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