Research Center’s 2020 Reports Reveal College Enrollment Trends
Enrollment Gaps Appear to Be Widening Because of COVID-19 and the Recession
Recognizing the urgency of COVID-19’s impact on students and institutions, the National Student Clearinghouse Research Center tracked fall 2020 college enrollment trends compared to fall 2019, in near real time. Throughout the year, the Research Center released reports to inform colleges and universities, high schools, and policy leaders about the shifting higher education enrollment and student transfer trends for the nation and each state.
“As the fall semester comes to a close, the impact of the pandemic seems to be disproportionately affecting disadvantaged students by keeping them out of college,” said Doug Shapiro, Executive Director of the National Student Clearinghouse Research Center. “The data reveal that community colleges and freshmen saw the steepest drops in enrollment, while the declines among four-year colleges and continuing undergraduates were generally much smaller.
“Looking through the additional lens of 2020 high school graduates, we observe an even sharper picture, as the immediate college enrollments of those from high poverty, low income, and urban high schools have been hit the hardest. The enrollment gaps appear to be widening because of COVID-19 and the recession.”
The reports provided the following insights:
- The Current Term Enrollment Estimates Report, released Dec. 17, shows that overall postsecondary enrollments declined 2.5 percent in fall 2020, nearly twice the rate of enrollment decline reported in fall 2019. Undergraduate enrollment drove the decline, decreasing 3.6 percent or over 560,200 students from 2019, while graduate enrollments increased.
- The High School Benchmarks 2020 with a COVID-19 Special Analysis – National College Progression Rates demonstrated that far fewer high school graduates went to college immediately after high school this fall. Enrollment fell 29% among graduates of low-income high schools, and 17% at higher income schools, causing the enrollment gap between the two to grow wider.
- The Completing College: National and State Reports revealed that the national six-year completion rate has plateaued at 60 percent, before accounting for the potential impact of COVID-19. This was mainly because traditional-age students and those starting at community colleges lost ground compared to last year’s completion rates.
- The COVID-19 Transfer, Mobility, and Progress Report, with support from Ascendium Education Group and ECMC Foundation, showed that the decline in student transfer and mobility this fall is steep and widespread.
- Starting with summer 2020, the Stay Informed with the Latest Enrollment Information delivers enrollment trends and data dashboards each term. The dashboards, updated monthly, use the latest enrollment data available.
The Research Center will provide updates to these reports throughout 2021. To learn more and for research assistance, visit the Research Center.
“As the fall semester comes to a close, the impact of the pandemic seems to be disproportionately affecting disadvantaged students by keeping them out of college.”
Executive Director of the National Student Clearinghouse Research Center