October 20, 2022
Undergraduate college enrollment is continuing its years-long decline, though at a much less drastic rate than during the pandemic. According to preliminary data released Thursday, U.S. colleges and universities saw a drop of just 1.1% of undergraduate students between the fall of 2021 and 2022. This follows a historic decline that began in the fall of 2020; over two years, more than 1 million fewer students enrolled in college.
“I certainly wouldn’t call this a recovery,” says Doug Shapiro, who leads the research center at the National Student Clearinghouse, which released the preliminary data. “We’re seeing smaller declines. But when you’re in a deep hole, the fact that you’re only digging a tiny bit further is not really good news.”
The declines in undergrad enrollment were felt across all types of institutions, including private non-profits, four-year public schools and for-profit colleges. Community colleges saw the smallest declines – only a 0.4% enrollment loss compared to fall 2021 – thanks in part to increased enrollment among high school students who were dual-enrolled and freshmen. That’s really good news, as community colleges were the hardest hit during the pandemic, with enrollment drops in the double digits.
For this preliminary report, the National Student Clearinghouse collected data on 10.3 million undergraduate and graduate students, representing a little more than half of the colleges they plan to collect data from by the end of the semester.
Across the country, colleges have also been reporting their own fall enrollment ups and downs. A free community college program in Maine, which targets high school students who graduated during the pandemic, led to big enrollment gains there: Nearly 2,000 more students enrolled at campuses across the state this fall, a 12% jump from a year ago.
But many other places follow the national trend of decline. At the University of Arkansas at Little Rock, a regional four-year public college, enrollment is down 3%. About 45 miles south, another branch of the university that is also a historically Black school, in Pine Bluff, saw enrollment go down by 7% compared to last fall.