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Stay Informed Report: Undergraduate Enrollment Grows for the First Time Post-Pandemic, Despite Freshmen Declines

by NSC Blog | Oct 26, 2023 | Research Reports, Research Services

Community Colleges Lead Growth

The National Student Clearinghouse Research Center released its fall 2023 Stay Informed Report, finding that undergraduate enrollment increased 2.1% compared to 2022 and is now 1.2% above 2021 enrollments. All major institutional sectors grew, but community colleges (+4.4%) accounted for 58.9% of the increase in undergraduates. This increase is welcome news, as community colleges experienced significant enrollment declines during the pandemic.

The latest Stay Informed Report, which provides a preliminary look at fall 2023 enrollment, also found that graduate enrollment slightly increased this fall (+0.7%), with continued growth in graduate certificate programs (+5.7% this year, +9.9% since 2021).

Students continue to gravitate towards shorter-term credentials, with enrollments in undergraduate certificate programs jumping 9.9%, compared to 3.6% for associate degrees and just 0.9% for bachelor’s degrees. Additionally, growth at historically black colleges and universities, or HBCUs (+6.1%), outpaced the overall undergraduate enrollment growth.

Despite overall undergraduate enrollment growth, freshman enrollment declined by 3.6%, reversing fall 2022 gains (+4.6%), and now at just 0.8% above fall 2021 enrollment. Almost all the freshman declines occurred in bachelor’s programs at public and private nonprofit four-year institutions (-6.9% and -4.7%, respectively), reversing their gains from 2022.

“This is good news for community colleges and for the growing numbers of continuing and returning students who had lost momentum from the start of the pandemic,” said Douglas Shapiro, Executive Director of the National Student Clearinghouse Research Center. “In a more troubling sign, however, the initial recovery among freshmen last year appears to have stalled as more 18-to-20-year-olds, especially at four-year institutions, are opting out.”

Other Key Findings:

  • Black, Latinx, and Asian students accounted for most of the undergraduate and graduate enrollment growth this fall. In contrast, enrollment of White students continued to decline at both the undergraduate (-0.9%) and graduate levels (-1.9%), and most acutely among freshmen (-9.4%).
  • Undergraduates grew at both ends of the age spectrum, with students 18-20 and 30 or older each adding about 3% this fall. Those under 18 (dual enrolled high school students), however, continued to outpace all undergrads with an 8.8% jump.
  • Among traditional-aged undergraduate students, enrollment is up across all neighborhood income levels, with students from the lowest income areas gaining 3.6% and those from the highest income areas gaining 1.4% this year.
  • Female enrollment increased this fall (+1.2%) but at a slower rate than their male counterparts (+2.2%), a continuation of the greater pandemic impact on women first seen in fall 2021.
  • Enrollment in healthcare programs is starting to rebound after pandemic declines, especially among those seeking undergraduate certificates and associate degrees (+5.7% and +4.4%, respectively). Computer Science majors also added 10% or more at all three undergraduate program levels.

For the full report, visit: Stay Informed with the Latest Enrollment Information. Results are preliminary as of September 28, 2023, and subject to change as more data is reported for the fall of 2023. The complete Fall 2023 Current Term Estimates are scheduled to be released later this year.

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