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Home » About the Clearinghouse » Media Center » Fall 2020 Undergraduate Enrollment Down 4% Compared to Same Time Last Year

Enrollment Picture Worsens as More Colleges Report Data, and Number of Freshmen Declines 16%

Herndon, Va. (Oct. 15, 2020) – Roughly one month into the fall 2020 semester, undergraduate enrollment is now running 4% below last year’s level, and the upward trend for graduate enrollment has slipped to 2.7%, according to the latest data by the National Student Clearinghouse Research Center. As a result, overall postsecondary enrollment is down 3% compared to the same time last year.

“With more data, the downward trends identified in September’s First Look report appear steeper, while also emerging for more states and student groups,” said Doug Shapiro, Executive Director of the National Student Clearinghouse Research Center. “Most strikingly, freshman students are by far the biggest decline of any group from last year, with a decrease of 16.1% nationally and a 22.7% drop at community colleges in particular. First-time students account for 69% of the total drop in undergraduate enrollment.”

This second update for the fall 2020 series, Stay Informed with the Latest Enrollment Information, is based on 9.2 million students or nearly 54% of postsecondary institutions reporting to the Clearinghouse, as of Sept. 24. The next update is scheduled to be released Nov. 12.

Additional results include:

Undergraduate enrollment is down at all types of institutions, except for private for-profit four-year colleges.

  • Community colleges continue to suffer the most with a decrease of 9.4% percent. Community colleges’ enrollment decline is now nearly nine times their pre-pandemic loss rate (-1.1% for fall 2019 compared to fall 2018). Even more concerning, the number of freshmen also dropped most drastically at community colleges (-22.7%).
  • Public four-year and private nonprofit four-year colleges show a much smaller drop (-1.4% and   – 2.0%, respectively). Freshmen are down far more steeply (-13.7% and -11.8%, respectively).
  • As the only exception, for-profit four-year colleges are running 3% higher than last fall.
  • At primarily online institutions, where more than 90% of students enroll exclusively online even before the pandemic, enrollments are growing at both the undergraduate and graduate levels (+6.8% and +7.2%, respectively), regardless of student age. Particularly, adult students age 25 and older, who make up most of the undergraduates at these institutions increased 5.5 percent, after a 6.3% decline in the year prior to the pandemic.

All student groups identified on a path of decline in the First Look report have fallen further.

  • American Indian and Native Alaskan students suffered the sharpest decline of all racial/ethnic undergraduate students (-10.7%), followed by Black students (-7.9%), White students (-7.6%), Hispanic students (-6.1%), and Asian students (-4.0%). A double-digit drop continued for international undergraduates (-13.7%).
  • Male undergraduate enrollment fell by three times the rate of female enrollment (-6.4% vs. -2.2%).
  • Graduate enrollment grew across all racial/ethnic groups, particularly Hispanic and Black students (14.2% and 9.3%, respectively). International graduate enrollment declined 7.6%.
  • Preliminary data shows that Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs) track closely the national trends for undergraduates overall, with somewhat more larger declines among private nonprofit four-year HBCUs and smaller drops among public two-year HBCUs.

Though undergraduate enrollment fell across all regions, the Midwest suffered the most (-5.7%) followed by the West (-3.9%), South (-3.6%) and Northeast (-3.4%).

  • Among 47 states for which sufficient data are available, only Nebraska, New Hampshire, Utah, Vermont, and West Virginia had more undergraduates compared to last fall while the other 42 states declined, ranging from -0.4% to -15.8%.
  • 26 states fell more than the national average of 4%, including those with a double-digit drop, Rhode Island (-15.8%), New Mexico (-10.6%), and Michigan (-9.7%).
  • Graduate enrollment is up for 38 states, with 24 states exceeding the 2.7% national average rate of growth. Graduate enrollment increases are most pronounced in Arizona and Mississippi, with both up 16% or more over fall 2019.
  • Growth in graduate enrollment is more pronounced in the West and South (+5.7% and +4.3%, respectively), followed by the Midwest with a 1.3% increase, while the Northeast has a small decline of 0.9% after an increase of 1.8% in the previous year.

The Research Center’s First Look Fall 2020 report in September showed undergraduate student enrollment declined 2.5%; graduate students increased 3.9%; and postsecondary enrollment as a whole down 1.8%, compared to September 2019. Those results were based on 3.6 million students or nearly 22% of institutions reporting to the Clearinghouse, as of September 10.

The next update to the Stay Informed with the Latest Enrollment Information is scheduled for November 12. Unlike the Research Center’s normal Current Term Enrollment Estimates’ report series, Stay Informed highlights year-over-year changes, using 2018 and 2019 historical data as pre-pandemic baselines and creating fixed panels of institutions that have submitted data as of each month. This allows the Research Center to provide early insights with preliminary data before the full enrollment reporting is completed for the term. The Research Center will update the data monthly, for various subgroups of students, programs, institutions, states, or regions.

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 more than 3,600 postsecondary institutions, which represent 97 percent 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