2022-2023 Academic Year Recap
Q&A with Doug Shapiro, Executive Director, National Student Clearinghouse Research Center
It’s been three years since the start of the Covid-19 pandemic, and the higher education community continues to deal with its disruptive effects. The National Student Clearinghouse Research Center’s reports enable academic leaders to stay apprised of enrollment trends, including new enrollments, transfers, persistence, stop-outs, and completions.
Dr. Doug Shapiro, Executive Director of the National Student Clearinghouse Research Center, recaps some of the major trends the Research Center reported during this past academic year.
Q: The pandemic exacerbated a trend where fewer students are pursuing higher education. What does the latest data indicate about the state of U.S. higher education enrollment today?
The positive news is that freshman enrollment grew 9.2% from spring 2022, building on a similar increase reported last year, as reported in the Spring 2023 Current Term Enrollment Estimates report. However, total postsecondary enrollment remains well below pre-pandemic levels, down about 1.09 million students overall and about 1.16 million undergraduates alone, compared to spring 2020.
Q: What lingering effects do we see from the pandemic on the number of students earning a college degree?
The pandemic’s impact on higher education has gone beyond the declining numbers of current students. It’s impacting the number of graduates. A total of 3.6 million people earned an undergraduate-level credential during the 2021-22 academic year, a new low not seen in four years. This is a setback to those seeking higher postsecondary attainment rates, leaving the nation and many states falling further behind on goals for a highly educated workforce.
Q: How many students enroll in higher education but do not earn a credential? How does this impact overall enrollment as colleges strive to return to pre-pandemic enrollment levels?
The Some College, No Credential Student Outcomes report found that the U.S. added 1.4 million more Some College, No Credential (SCNC) students making the SCNC population now 40.4 million (as of July 2021), up from 39.0 million a year earlier.
The growing numbers of stop-outs and fewer returning students have contributed to the broader enrollment declines in recent years. While our latest enrollment report suggests this trend may be stabilizing, it is still uncertain when or how colleges might return to pre-pandemic levels.
Q: The Research Center previously reported that community colleges experienced a significant enrollment drop during the pandemic. How are they faring today?
The spring 2023 Current Term Enrollment Estimates Report found the community college freshman class is now 7% larger than spring 2020 levels. Overall, the community college enrollment grew slightly this spring (up 0.5%, 22,000 students from spring 2022) after large declines in the previous two years. The increase is due to a growing number of younger students, primarily dual-enrolled high school students and freshmen.
However, despite these encouraging signs of recovery among younger students at community colleges, overall undergraduate enrollment is still well below pre-pandemic levels, especially among degree-seeking students.
Q: What fields of study are growing in popularity?
Computer science undergraduate programs at four-year institutions reached their highest growth rate in three years (+11.6% or +62,000 students) in spring 2023. At two-year institutions, computer science enrollments are now above pre-pandemic levels, reversing three years of flat or declining numbers (+9.7% or +20,000 students). However, healthcare and education program enrollments continued to fall across two- and four-year institutions.
Q: Transferring between institutions is an important pathway for many students to complete their college education. What trends are being observed in transfer data?
The fall 2022 Transfer and Progress report showed that fall transfer enrollment continued to drop in 2022 but at a slower pace than the previous year. The overall transfer enrollment rate has declined by 7% since fall 2020.
However, it is encouraging that students who transferred from community colleges to four-year schools six years ago are now completing bachelor’s degrees at higher rates than before, despite the disruptions of the pandemic.
“The pandemic’s impact on higher education has gone beyond the declining numbers of current students. It’s impacting the number of graduates…This is a setback to those seeking higher postsecondary attainment rates, leaving the nation and many states falling further behind on goals for a highly educated workforce.”
Executive Director, National Student Clearinghouse Research Center