Initial Undergraduate and Graduate Enrollments Mirror Fall 2020
HERNDON, VA – (March 11, 2021) — Spring enrollment appears to be showing the same level of enrollment losses overall as the fall 2020 trend, according to the latest data by the National Student Clearinghouse Research Center. Undergraduate enrollment is down 4.5% while graduate enrollment is up 4.3%. Overall, college enrollment is running 2.9% below last spring’s level.
Community colleges remain the most affected sector of higher education by COVID-19, down 9.5% from a year ago, the same rate of decline as the fall. Community colleges had decreased 1.3% from this time in spring 2020. Results released today are preliminary, based on data as of February 11, 2021, and reflecting 6.7 million students, as reported by 43% of the colleges participating in the Clearinghouse.
“There’s no quick turnaround in sight for undergraduate enrollment declines driven by the pandemic,” said Doug Shapiro, Executive Director, National Student Clearinghouse Research Center. “Education institutions, high schools and policymakers will need to work together to help bring back the learners who are struggling during the pandemic and recession.”
Public four-year undergraduate enrollment is currently falling more precipitously (-3.3% this spring compared to -1.1% last spring and -1.9% in fall 2020). Graduate enrollment, on the other hand, is growing at a higher rate than in the fall (+4.3% this spring compared to +1.5% last spring and +2.9% fall 2020). Most of the increase in graduate student numbers occurred at public four-year institutions.
Total bachelor’s degree enrollment has slipped -2.1% this spring compared to -0.6% last spring and -1.1% in fall 2020. There are much larger drops in associate degree enrollment: -10.5% this spring compared to -2.9% last spring and -9% fall 2020. See tab 2; figure 3 for details.
But continuing the pre-pandemic trend, enrollment in certificate programs is up at both the undergraduate (+3.3%) and graduate level (+15.4%) compared to spring 2020. Certificate enrollment, although comprising a small share of undergraduate enrollment (3%), is the only type of credential that increased from last spring at the undergraduate level. See tab 2 for details.
Undergraduate enrollment declined in all racial and ethnic categories. While Native American enrollment decreased the most, both Asian and Hispanic enrollments have dropped in contrast to their growth last spring. Notably, Latina women declined nearly 10% at community colleges after having made a 1.8% gain in the year prior. Furthermore, international enrollments are down nearly 16% for undergraduates and more than 5% for graduate students. See tab 4 for details.
Traditional college-age student enrollment (ages 18-24) declined more sharply this spring (-5.3% compared to -0.6% last spring) and decreased at twice the rate of adult students aged 25 and older (-2.6%). See tab 4 for details. For fall 2020 enrollment declines based on age, see table 2 of the Current Term Enrollment Estimates.
Undergraduate enrollment at primarily online institutions, where more than 90% of students enrolled exclusively online prior to the pandemic, experienced a 7.1% gain, five percentage points higher than spring 2020, and graduate students are up 7.4% but at a slower pace than last year (+19.3%). See tab 7 for details.
Bachelor’s degree programs in health care fields as well as computer and information sciences have weathered the effect of the pandemic best, mostly following pre-pandemic enrollment trends of decline and growth, respectively. Master’s degree in business, health, education, computer and information sciences and public administration have all increased compared to last spring. See tab 5 for details.
These results will be updated throughout the spring as more data are received. The next update is scheduled for late April.
About the National Student Clearinghouse® Research Center™
The National Student Clearinghouse Research Center is the research arm of the National Student Clearinghouse. The Research Center collaborates with higher education institutions, states, school districts, high schools, and educational organizations as part of a national effort to better inform education leaders and policymakers. Through accurate longitudinal data outcomes reporting, the Research Center enables better educational policy decisions leading to improved student outcomes.
The Research Center currently collects data from nearly 3,600 postsecondary institutions, which represent 97% of the nation’s postsecondary enrollments in degree-granting institutions, as of 2018. Clearinghouse data track enrollments nationally and are not limited by institutional and state boundaries. To learn more, visit https://nscresearchcenter.org.