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As the Pandemic Wanes, All Eyes Are on Enrollment

As the Pandemic Wanes, All Eyes Are on Enrollment

Inside Higher Ed

Liam Knox and Sara Weissman
October 17, 2022
After a bruising year of pandemic-related enrollment declines, higher education leaders across the country are anxiously waiting for this fall’s national enrollment picture to emerge.
Many of the signs suggest at least modest improvement over all, but with wide variation among sectors and institutions. National Student Clearinghouse data released in May showed the enrollment downturn slowing, but by no means reversing. The NSC is scheduled to release nationwide enrollment data for fall 2022 later this week. As the fog of the pandemic’s impact clears, those numbers could reveal the contours of a new landscape for higher education.
Enrollment officials at colleges that experienced robust increases aren’t even waiting for the official numbers and are instead publicly announcing enrollment upswings. Administrators at colleges that had modest gains are being more circumspect and have adopted a wait-and-see attitude. Meanwhile, those institutions where enrollments continued to decline are likely keeping that news to themselves.
“University of Arkansas enrollment is booming,” Charles Robinson, interim chancellor at Arkansas, said of the university’s preliminary numbers in a press release. Enrollment increased 8.3 percent compared to last year, and first-year enrollment rose 17.1 percent. “We have record overall enrollment and highest ever new freshman enrollment.”
While the pandemic certainly played a critical role in depressing enrollment rates, the declines also partly reflect long-term demographic shifts.
“We’ve had a long stretch now of declining matriculation rates. COVID amplified that and produced disproportionate deviations in other trends. That makes the numbers we’re going to see really interesting,” said Nathan D. Grawe, the author of Demographics and the Demand for Higher Education and The Agile College (Johns Hopkins University Press, 2018 and 2021). He added that because government pandemic relief funds have stopped flowing, “it becomes important in a way that was a little bit less true for the last two years that colleges make their enrollment goals” and make up for lost revenue.
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