Fall Undergraduate Enrollment Declines at a Slower Pace but Nearing Pre-Pandemic Rates
Community Colleges Gain Freshmen but All Other Higher Ed Sectors Lose Ground
Undergraduate enrollment continued to decline by 1.1% in fall 2022 compared to 2021, but the decline has slowed to pre-pandemic rates, according to the latest research by the National Student Clearinghouse Research Center.
Total undergraduate and graduate enrollment combined declined 1.1% over last fall, leading to a total two-year decline of 3.2% since 2020. The total rate of decline has slowed by almost half since last year when it dropped 2.1% and a third since fall 2020’s 3.4% loss.
This preliminary fall data is based on 10.3 million undergraduate and graduate students, as reported by 63% of Title IV degree-granting institutions that are participating in the Clearinghouse as of September 29, 2022.
Undergraduate enrollment declines this fall are evident across all sectors especially among four-year institutions, with a drop of 1.6% at public four-years; 0.9% at private nonprofits; and 2.5% at private for-profits. Declines at community colleges have slowed, with only a 0.4% enrollment loss compared to fall 2021, driven by an 11.5% jump in dual-enrolled high school students.
“After two straight years of historically large losses, it is particularly troubling that numbers are still falling, especially among freshmen,” said Doug Shapiro, Executive Director, National Student Clearinghouse Research Center. “Although the decline has slowed and there are some bright spots, a path back to pre-pandemic enrollment levels is growing further out of reach.”
Also, the 18- to 20-year-old age group grew at community colleges by 1.4%, with an increase in traditional-age freshmen making up about one-third of the climb. Total freshman enrollment at community colleges appears to have stabilized for the first time since the start of the pandemic.
However, freshmen enrollment declined by 1.5% overall. Freshmen numbers declined in all four-year sectors, led by private nonprofits dropping 3.1%, publics declining 2.4%, and private for-profits losing 0.9%. Highly selective institutions saw the largest freshmen declines this fall of 5.6% compared to a 10.7% gain in fall 2021. Meanwhile, community colleges saw a 0.9% increase this fall, driving an upward trend of 1% freshmen growth at community colleges since fall 2020.
Furthermore, graduate enrollment declined by 1%, which reverses last year’s 2.7% gain. This may signal the end of the pandemic-related influxes of post-baccalaureate students. However, graduate enrollment is still above pre-pandemic levels, with a total two-year change of 1.6% from fall 2020.
Among the 42 states for which sufficient data are available, undergraduate enrollment declined at 27 states compared to last fall. The steepest declines (-4.3% to -5.2%) were in Alaska, Michigan, Kansas, Missouri, and Nevada, while New Hampshire, New Mexico, and South Carolina gained (+3.7% to +6.8%).
Graduate enrollment is down in 26 states, with Alaska, Maine, Montana, Mississippi, Nebraska, California, Louisiana, Maryland, and Arkansas all experiencing declines of more than 4% this fall compared to the previous year.
“Although the decline has slowed and there are some bright spots, a path back to pre-pandemic enrollment levels is growing further out of reach.”
Executive Director, National Student Clearinghouse Research Center