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Fall Enrollment: Freshman Show Steep Declines; Student Mobility Appears Constrained

by NSC Blog | Nov 12, 2020 | Research Reports, Research Services |

Undergraduate enrollment is down 4.4% while graduate enrollment is up 2.9% compared to the same time last year, according to the latest data by the National Student Clearinghouse Research Center. Overall, postsecondary enrollment this fall is 3.3% lower.

The previous report released on Oct. 15 showed a 4% decrease in undergraduate enrollment and a 2.7% growth in graduate enrollment, with an overall 3% decline in postsecondary enrollment.

“The big picture remains the same after the inclusion of data for an additional 4.4 million students,” said Doug Shapiro, Executive Director of the National Student Clearinghouse Research Center. “The latest data update shows community colleges and freshmen continuing to show the steepest drops in enrollment, while the declines among undergraduates generally have deepened.”

The decline in freshman enrollment this fall has been revised from last month’s report of a 16% decline, to a still substantial decline of 13%. Community colleges are showing the sharpest drop (-18.9%), almost 19 times the pre-pandemic loss rate (-1% between fall 2018 and 2019; see Figure 6). Public four-year institutions declined -10.5% and private nonprofit four-year institutions dropped -8.5%.

This third update to the fall 2020 series, Stay Informed with the Latest Enrollment Information, is based on 13.5 million enrolled students from 76% of postsecondary institutions reporting to the Clearinghouse, as of Oct. 22. For comparisons, see our previous press release. The Research Center will provide the final fall enrollment data on Dec. 17.

In addition, the Research Center released on Oct. 27 new research that shows increased transfers from community colleges to four-year institutions in the first fall semester of the pandemic, while fewer students transferred from four-year institutions to two-year colleges, or laterally among two-year or four-year institutions. These findings are based on preliminary data reported as of September 24, 2020, by 54 percent of Title IV degree-granting institutions that participate in the Clearinghouse.

The COVID-19 Transfer, Mobility, and Progress Report, with support from Ascendium Education Group and the ECMC Foundation, reveals that continuing students are the driver of increases in upward transfer. This is good news for four-year colleges looking to close enrollment gaps but adds to enrollment concerns in the community college sector. Even though the increase in upward transfer is promising for community college students seeking a bachelor’s degree, it was uneven across different student subgroups, with male students, Black students, and adult learners falling further behind other demographics.

During the academic year, watch for the Research Center’s regular updates to these reports!

“The latest data update shows community colleges and freshmen continuing to show the steepest drops in enrollment, while the declines among undergraduates generally have deepened.”

Doug Shapiro
Executive Director of the National Student Clearinghouse Research Center

 

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