Community College Enrollment Declines 11.3% Nationwide
Only Nebraska, Utah, and West Virginia Show Gains in Undergraduate Enrollment
HERNDON, VA – (April 29, 2021) – Spring undergraduate enrollment is down 5.9% compared to the same time last year, according to the latest research by the National Student Clearinghouse Research Center. This is the steepest decline in undergraduate enrollment since the beginning of the pandemic.
Undergraduate enrollment fell further across all institution types, with community colleges experiencing a double-digit decline for the first time during this pandemic, -11.3% compared to -9.5% last fall.
Overall postsecondary enrollment is down 4.2% from a year ago, while graduate enrollment continued to grow 4.4% nationwide. The research released today is based on data as of March 25, 2021, reflecting 12.6 million students and 76% of institutions that report to the Clearinghouse.
“The continuing slide in community college enrollments is of great concern,” said Doug Shapiro, Executive Director, National Student Clearinghouse Research Center. “In a sign of potentially long-lasting impact on the level of skills and credentials in the workforce, there is still no age group showing increases at community colleges, even after a full year of pandemic and related unemployment.”
Research highlights include:
- Associate degree enrollment saw a 10.9% drop and bachelor’s degree enrollment declined 2.2%. In contrast, master’s and doctoral degree enrollments are up 5.2% and 3.6%, respectively.
- Traditional college-age students, particularly those aged 18 to 20, saw the largest decline of all age groups (-7.2%). 18- to 20-year-olds make up the largest share of undergraduates overall (40.9%). The decline was especially pronounced at community colleges (-14.6%).
- At primarily online institutions, where more than 90% of students enrolled exclusively online prior to the pandemic, both undergraduate and graduate enrollments increased more than the pre-pandemic rate of growth.
- Only three states made gains in undergraduate enrollment: Nebraska (+1%), Utah (+0.9%), and West Virginia (+0.6%). In 25 states, undergraduate enrollment declined more than the national average (-5.9%), with five dropping by double-digits (Alaska, Delaware, New Mexico, Oregon, and South Dakota).
- Graduate enrollment is up in all states except Alaska, Indiana, Michigan, Minnesota, and New York. The rate of growth was most pronounced for Mississippi (+18.8%), followed by Virginia (+12.6%), and West Virginia (+11.7%). The South is seeing larger gains in graduate students this spring (+7.8%) than any other region (West +4.8%, Midwest +1.8%, and Northeast +1.6%).
Other research results include:
- By race and ethnicity, Native Americans continued to experience the greatest decline of any racial and ethnic group among undergraduates, having dropped 13% this spring. Declines are smallest among Asian students (-4.8%), while White, Black and Latinx students fell by roughly equal levels (-8.5%, -8.8% and -7.3%, respectively). The largest enrollment swing occurred for Latinx students at both community colleges (+1.7% last spring vs. -13.7% this spring) and public four-year colleges (+2.1% vs. -1.9%). At community colleges, only Latinx enrollment grew before the pandemic.
- Male undergraduates are increasingly falling behind their female counterparts, but primarily online institutions have been the only exception. This spring, male undergraduate enrollment is up 3.5 % at these institutions, compared to 1.4 % for female enrollment.
- Enrollment in health professions and related clinical sciences programs fared the best this spring among the top five most common major fields for those pursuing associate degrees (-3.7%) and undergraduate certificates (+2.0%). Among the top 10 bachelor’s degree programs, psychology, computer and information sciences and support services, and education majors increased more than health related majors.
- Graduate-level education programs are flourishing this spring in all types of credentials. Master’s degree and doctoral degree enrollments rose by 4% and 8%, respectively, from a year ago. Graduate programs in education, particularly at the doctoral level, increased by 8.2% after increasing 1.7% last spring. MBA enrollments have seen a 7.6% increase this spring after a 0.5% decline last spring. Science and engineering master’s enrollment increased 3.3% this spring.
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.