Undergraduate Enrollment Grew in the Fall of 2023

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Undergraduate Enrollment Grew in the Fall of 2023

Report Shows Community College Enrollment Increased 2.6%

HERNDON, VA – (JANUARY 24, 2024) – Undergraduate enrollment grew 1.2 percent (+176,000) in the fall of 2023, the first increase since the pandemic, according to the National Student Clearinghouse’s latest research. Among the three largest sectors, growth was highest at community colleges, which gained 118,000 students (+2.6%) after steep declines during the pandemic. Public and private nonprofit 4-year institutions both saw smaller increases of 0.6 percent (+38,000 and +16,000, respectively). Over two-thirds of states saw undergraduate enrollment growth this fall.

“The number of students in college has finally turned the corner after years of decline,” said Doug Shapiro, Executive Director of the National Student Clearinghouse Research Center. “The small uptick this fall is a welcome change for higher education, but there are still over a million empty seats on campuses today that were filled five years ago.”

The Current Term Enrollment Estimates (CTEE) report showed that freshman enrollment also grew this fall, but at a slower rate (+0.8%, +18,000) than undergraduate enrollment overall. This growth was driven by community colleges, which added 17,000 freshmen (+2.3%), and by older freshmen (age 21 and above, +6.3%, +18,000). There was no growth in freshmen 20 years old and younger. Their enrollment remains 5.3 percent below 2019 levels. Freshman enrollment growth at public 4-year institutions was strongest at the lower end of the admissions selectivity range (“competitive” and “less selective” schools, +1.7%, +7,000, and +3.0%, +4,000 respectively). Conversely, freshman enrollment at private nonprofit 4-year institutions was strongest at highly selective institutions (+1.8%, +2,000).

Additional highlights of the report include:

  • Overall graduate enrollment growth this fall (+0.6%, +17,000) was not strong enough to offset last year’s graduate enrollment declines. As a result, total postsecondary enrollment—undergraduate and graduate combined—increased 1.1 percent (+193,000).
  • Enrollment in associate programs saw the highest growth (+2.2%, +96,000) among undergraduates. This is the first time since the Research Center began tracking enrollment by credential level in 2015 that enrollment in associate programs increased. Bachelor’s programs grew at a lower rate (+0.7%, +63,000). Despite these gains, associate enrollment remains 14.2 percent below fall 2019 levels, and bachelor’s enrollment remains 3.3 percent below 2019.
  • Undergraduate certificate programs notched a third consecutive year of fall term growth gaining 18,000 students, although the growth rate (+1.8%) has slowed considerably from its high in fall 2021 (+9.8%). Certificate enrollment is 15.6 percent above 2019 levels.
  • Dual enrollment (students 17 and younger) continued to increase at both community colleges (+5.2%, +44,000) and public PABs (+7.4%, +10,000). At the other end of the age spectrum, there was rare growth in enrollment of the oldest students (age 30+) at community colleges (+2.2%, +20,000).
  • At community colleges with a high vocational program focus, enrollment grew 16.0 percent (+112,000), bringing them above fall 2019 levels (+3.7%). Community college enrollment at transfer-focused institutions stabilized (+0.2%), remaining well below fall 2019 levels (-19.6%).
  • Undergraduate enrollment of traditional-age students from lower income neighborhoods grew slightly more than for students from higher income neighborhoods. Students from areas in the bottom two quintiles of neighborhood income gained 1.5 percent to 1.7 percent compared to 1.1 percent for the two highest quintiles. Still, enrollment from the poorest neighborhoods remains down 2.9 percent (-33,000) compared to fall 2019. In contrast, enrollment of those from the highest-income neighborhoods is down only 0.8 percent (-25,000) compared to 2019.
  • At two-year institutions, Health majors saw growth after over four years of decline (+2.4%, +16,000). At four-year institutions, Health majors, particularly Registered Nursing programs, declined this fall (-1.1%, -5,000).

For more on enrollment by ethnoracial groups, undergraduate majors, graduate programs, as well as regional and state enrollment trends that make up the complete report, visit nscresearchcenter.org/current-term-enrollment-estimates.

Note that this fall 2023 expanded edition of the CTEE report features new analyses of:

  • student’s neighborhood income background
  • enrollment at Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs)
  • community college enrollment by institutions’ program focus (transfer or vocational)
  • enrollment trends by institution locale
  • enrollment in major field subgroups (4-digit CIP)
  • more detailed breakouts of enrollment by credential level and by age

The CTEE Expanded Edition report is supported in part by the Institute of Education Sciences, U.S. Department of Education, through grant R305X220022 to Teachers College, Columbia University. This project is part of the Accelerating Recovery in Community Colleges (ARCC) Network. The opinions expressed in this report are those of the authors and do not represent the views of the Institute or the U.S. Department of Education.

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. To learn more, visit nscresearchcenter.org.


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