- Undergraduate enrollment this fall dipped once again compared to the year before, although the 1.1% decrease is the smallest yet since the coronavirus pandemic began, according to preliminary data from the National Student Clearinghouse Research Center.
- All types of four-year colleges saw declines in undergraduate enrollment. For-profit colleges fared the worst, with a 2.5% decline in the fall term, while community colleges showed the smallest drop, of 0.4%.
- A 1.5% decline in first-year students this fall was particularly concerning, said Doug Shapiro, the research center’s executive director. This figure signals that high school graduates who opted to skip college during the first two years of the pandemic still haven't returned.
The latest enrollment figures bring more bad news to the higher education sector, which has suffered from historically large decreases throughout the pandemic. Still, the undergraduate decline this fall is just one-third of last fall’s decrease.
It’s too soon to say if this smaller decline means that enrollment is stabilizing. And the further drop is hardly good news for colleges and universities, which have shed more than 1 million students since the pandemic began.
“I certainly wouldn’t call this a recovery,” Shapiro said during a call with reporters Wednesday. “We’re seeing some smaller declines, but when you’re in a deep hole, you know, the fact that you’re only digging a tiny bit further is not really good news.”
Undergraduate enrollment continued to decline this fall
However, some of the data pointed to reason for optimism.
Community colleges have borne the brunt of the enrollment declines since the pandemic started, but they saw the smallest undergraduate losses out of all institution types this fall. Moreover, they saw a 0.9% increase in first-year students, making community colleges the only institution type that didn’t see decreases in this population.
But community colleges still have to make up for large losses during the pandemic — their enrollment is down 5.4% total over the past two years.
“Even the increase in community college freshmen is still small,” Shapiro said. “And we’re no where near recovering from the huge decline in community college freshmen that we saw in fall of 2020.
First-year enrollment picked up slightly at community colleges in fall 2022
Graduate enrollment also suffered this fall, dropping 1%. This erases last fall’s 2.7% increase, potentially signaling that the influx of graduate students seen at the beginning of the health crisis is beginning to taper off. However, graduate enrollment is still up slightly since the pandemic started.
The data is based on information from 63% of the colleges that participated in enrollment reporting to the National Student Clearinghouse Research Center as of Sept. 29 and that receive federal financial aid. The findings cover 10.3 million students.