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Home » About the Clearinghouse » Media Center » Fall 2020 College Enrollment Update for the High School Graduating Class of 2020

6.8% fewer students attending college immediately after high school this past fall, an unprecedented one-year decline

HERNDON, VA – (March 25, 2021) – The National Student Clearinghouse Research Center released today an update to the High School Benchmarks 2020 COVID-19 Special Analysis, showing a 6.8% decline of high school graduates attending college immediately after high school this past fall, an unprecedented one-year decline. This decline is more than four times larger than the 2019 pre-pandemic rate, but less than the 21.7% estimate reported in December 2020 preliminary report. The pattern of disparities among high schools of different characteristics remains largely the same as originally reported.

This new analysis is based on the addition of approximately 50% more data from high schools and colleges, and restated to correct a process error that resulted in an overestimate of the rate of decline in college enrollment counts.

The updated High School Benchmarks’ data covers approximately 860,000 graduates, from nearly 3,500 high schools, and their immediate fall enrollments in 87% of all postsecondary institutions that participate in the Clearinghouse. In addition to the main findings described below, detailed information about participant high school profiles and enrollment results can be found in the Appendix.


  • The pandemic disproportionately affected graduates of low-income, high-poverty, and high-minority high schools, with their enrollments dropping more steeply than their more advantaged counterparts. Enrollment declines were 2.3 times steeper for low-income high schools compared to higher-income schools.
  • Urban and rural schools showed roughly equal rates of decline, and a larger enrollment rate gap from their suburban counterparts.
  • Community college enrollment dropped the most in low-income high schools while public, four-year enrollment was unaffected by the pandemic for high income high schools.

“The new data show large enrollment disparities by income and poverty levels of high schools during COVID-19,” said Doug Shapiro, Executive Director, National Student Clearinghouse Research Center. “Students from disadvantaged schools are showing much higher rates of decline in college enrollment than their more advantaged counterparts. These findings further illustrate how the pandemic has reduced access to postsecondary education, particularly for students seeking more affordable options in the public sector.

“Regarding the process error, we discovered it while updating last fall’s data, and we regret that this unusual error impacted both the past High School Benchmarks COVID-19 Special Analysis and the Transfer Report. After further review, we confirmed that the Transfer Reports’ major trends for fall 2020 remain the same. No other reports were impacted.”

The High School Benchmarks 2020 report data are drawn from the Clearinghouse’s StudentTracker® for High Schools service and are presented for students from different types of high schools, such as low- versus higher-income, and low versus high minority. This enables more focused discussions, particularly about low-income and minority students traditionally not well served by higher education.

The Research Center’s COVID-19 Transfer, Mobility, and Progress Report for spring 2021 is scheduled to be released in early April along with corrected errors for fall 2020. The report identifies changes in student transfer pathways that are attributable to the pandemic by using historical data as the pre-pandemic baseline and the Clearinghouse’s current enrollment data. By making transfer data and insights accessible online for free, the Research Center enables schools, institutions, organizations, and policymakers to better adapt and serve students, particularly those from the most vulnerable populations, during the pandemic and beyond.

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