- Community colleges are seeing signs of recovery after dramatic declines in enrollment over the pandemic, according to preliminary data released Wednesday by the National Student Clearinghouse Research Center. Enrollment at community colleges in spring 2023 grew by 2.1% over the previous year, largely due to increases in spring freshmen and dual enrollment.
- Undergraduate enrollment remained largely unchanged, rising only 0.2%. Yet the stability is considered good news, as the number of undergraduates had dropped significantly the previous two springs.
- Public four-year colleges were the only institutions that continued to see a decline in spring enrollment, with a 0.9% decrease. But almost half of all students enrolled are at public four-year institutions, according to Doug Shapiro, executive director of the research center.
Enrollment at community colleges is still down 1.9% from spring 2021, according to the data. But the growth this year is a step in the right direction, Shapiro said during a call with reporters Tuesday.
"Community colleges have been the hardest hit sector since the start of the pandemic," he said. "They lost 3.9% last spring, and they are currently still down by roughly 14% from pre-pandemic levels. There's still a long way to go, but clearly, this is a nice sign of improvement."
In fact, in reporting on its "first look" findings, the center said, "community colleges may be turning the corner this spring after major pandemic declines.
Enrollment growth among the youngest students, the only age groups to see improvements, pushed up the numbers, according to the clearinghouse.
Enrollment grew among undergraduate students 17 years old and younger — typically students enrolled dually in community college and high school — whose numbers rose by 10.6% in spring 2023 from the previous year. Those ages 18 to 20 also rose, by 2.1%, over the same period. Every other age group saw undergraduate enrollment declines, with students ages 25 to 29 showing the sharpest enrollment decline, of 5.3%.
Among undergraduate students, Latinx students were the only racial or ethnic group to enroll in greater numbers this spring, up 0.9% year over year. White and Black student enrollment declined at rates of 4.9% and 1.6% respectively, while Asian student enrollment fell 0.4%.
Undergraduate enrollment of men, meanwhile, showed slight growth, compared to an almost equally slight decline for women. In spring 2023, there were 0.7% more undergraduate men year over year, compared to 0.9% fewer women. That echoes the gender imbalance from the previous year, when both groups lost students but enrollment among women undergraduates declined at almost double the rate for men.
Among graduate students, spring enrollment also declined overall in 2023, dropping by 1.2% from the year prior, after seeing gains at the start of the pandemic. Despite the recent loss, enrollment in that cohort remains above pre-pandemic levels, according to the data.
Shapiro noted that the results are preliminary, covering 54% of the institutions the clearinghouse typically analyzes. Final results are expected later this year.