Undergraduate Enrollment Stabilizes While Graduate Enrollment Declines
Dual-Enrolled High School Students Drive Uptick In Community College Enrollment
The National Student Clearinghouse Research Center released the Current Term Enrollment Estimates report for spring 2023. In line with the preliminary findings in the Stay Informed report, published earlier this year, this final look report confirms undergraduate enrollment is stabilizing, with a mere 0.2% decline from last spring.
The stabilization primarily stems from a slight increase in community college students, who have seen a 0.5% rise from the previous year. The increase in community college enrollments can largely be attributed to a rise in dual-enrolled high school students, who have seen an 8% increase this spring compared to the previous spring.
The decline at four-year institutions has also slowed, with a 0.5% decrease at public institutions and only a 0.2% decline at private nonprofit institutions. Consequently, the overall decline in undergraduate student numbers is only 0.2%. This trend represents a significant improvement compared to the nearly 4% annual decline recorded last spring. However, it is essential to acknowledge that our national stabilization is still far below pre-pandemic levels, with approximately 1.2 million fewer undergraduates enrolled this spring compared to the spring of 2020.
Enrollments are shifting towards shorter-term non-degree programs, such as sub-baccalaureate certificates and other credentials, which have witnessed a nearly 5% increase. Associate degree-seeking students have declined by 0.4%, and bachelor’s degree-seeking students have experienced a more substantial decline of 1.4%.
“Despite 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,” said Doug Shapiro, executive director of the National Student Clearinghouse Research Center. “With the pandemic now behind us, a new set of factors appears to be preventing students from returning to campuses. And these new factors are having a stronger effect on students who are seeking bachelor’s degrees than on associate-seekers.”
Computer science undergraduates continue to grow, with a remarkable 11.5% increase at four-year institutions, the highest growth rate since the pandemic began. Computer science majors have surpassed pre-pandemic levels at two-year institutions, exhibiting a 9.7% jump compared to last year. On the other hand, majors in healthcare and education continue to decline in both two-year and four-year institutions.
It is worth noting that the positive indicators suggesting recovery are primarily concentrated among high school and traditional-age college students. Adult learners continue to vanish from campuses across all sectors, with an additional 3.3% decline in students over the age of 24 this spring, following a 5.5% decline last spring.
Lastly, in contrast to undergraduates, graduate students are witnessing a reversal in trends. While they experienced a 5% increase during the early stages of the pandemic, their numbers declined 2.2% this spring, driven largely by a drop in master’s degree enrollment (-57,000 students). It appears that the wave of growth among graduate students has subsided.
“With the pandemic now behind us, a new set of factors appears to be preventing students from returning to campuses. And these new factors are having a stronger effect on students who are seeking bachelor’s degrees than on associate-seekers.”
Executive Director, National Student Clearinghouse Research Center