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Despite Hopes for a Rebound, Enrollment Falls Again

Despite Hopes for a Rebound, Enrollment Falls Again

Inside Higher Ed

Liam Knox
October 20, 2022
As the effects of the pandemic wane, higher education leaders and researchers have been anxiously awaiting this fall’s enrollment numbers to reveal a clearer picture of the new landscape. While early signs led many to predict a slight rebound from the steep two-year drop-off during the pandemic, a new report from the National Student Clearinghouse Research Center shows that enrollment fell for the fifth semester in a row, dampening those hopes.
Overall enrollment fell by 1.1 percent, closer to pre-pandemic levels than the more drastic declines that shocked leaders over the past two years. The rate of decline has decreased by almost a third since fall 2020.
But Doug Shapiro, the research center’s executive director, said that while a slower descent is welcome, this semester’s numbers are no cause for celebration.
“I certainly wouldn’t call this a recovery,” he said. “We’re seeing smaller declines, but when you’re in a deep hole, the fact that you’re only digging a tiny bit deeper isn’t exactly good news.”
Since 2019, Shapiro said, the NSC’s numbers show a combined decline of almost 7.5 percent across all higher education sectors.
Data from this spring’s FAFSA, which saw a 4.6 percent increase in applications over last spring, gave higher education leaders some hope that a post-pandemic rebound was imminent this fall, especially among minority and low-income students. Shapiro said those expectations have been roundly subverted.
“Our biggest concern is that we aren’t seeing a huge upsurge back in freshman enrollment at four-year institutions. So those two lost years of high school graduates who didn’t enroll in fall 2020 or fall 2021, there’s not a lot of evidence of them coming back,” Shapiro said. “Many institutions are still below their freshman numbers from last year, let alone 2019, and that’s very concerning.”
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