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Home » About the Clearinghouse » Media Center » Undergraduate Enrollment Down 2.5% and Graduate Students Up 3.9%, Compared to Sept. 2019

Preliminary Fall 2020 Data Show Undergraduate Students Need More Support During COVID-19 Pandemic

Herndon, Va. (Sept. 24, 2020) – The National Student Clearinghouse Research Center announced today new data that show undergraduate student enrollment declining 2.5%, while graduate students are up 3.9%, as of September 10. As a result, postsecondary enrollment as a whole is down 1.8%, compared to the same time last year.

The results are based on 3.6 million students at 629 colleges or nearly 22% of institutions reporting to the Clearinghouse to date. Updated enrollment will be released monthly throughout the fall as more colleges report their data.

Enrollments are down in all types of institutions at the undergraduate level. Community colleges show the greatest losses of 8%, followed by private nonprofit four-year institutions declining 3.8%. Public four-year institutions are suffering far less with a decrease of 0.4%, although they vary by campus setting, with urban institutions increasing slightly while rural schools fell 4%. Community colleges, on the other hand, suffered universally regardless of location (See Figure 9).

Undergraduate enrollment is running below last year’s level for every racial and ethnic group. American Indian and Native Alaskan students are down 8%; White students and Black students declined 6% each, and both Hispanic and Asian student enrollments dropped more than 3%. Although data are less complete for them, international students appear to have suffered the steepest declines, with non-resident alien undergraduates down 11.2% (See Figure 4).

As an exception to the general declines, graduate enrollments are up, with all racial/ethnic categories seeing increases. Graduate enrollments grew particularly among Hispanic students (14.2%). However, international graduate students fell by 5% (See Figure 4).

“Adding to what we saw in the Summer term enrollments, the fall data continue to show how much higher the stakes are for community college students during disruptions like the pandemic and the subsequent recession,” said Doug Shapiro, Executive Director of the National Student Clearinghouse Research Center. “The picture will become clearer as more data come in, but at this point the large equity gap for students who rely on community colleges for access to higher education is a matter of critical concern.”

At primarily online institutions, where more than 90 percent of students enrolled exclusively online even before the pandemic, undergraduates decreased by 3.5%, and graduate students gained by 3% for an overall decrease of 2.3%. Most racial and ethnic groups saw increases for undergraduate and graduate enrollments, but Black and Native American students declined at these institutions (See Figure 11).

Among 26 states for which sufficient data are available, 19 states show fewer undergraduate students compared to the same time last fall, with enrollment declines ranging from 0.1 percent to 13.9 percent. By contrast, graduate enrollments are up for 21 states, with 15 states exceeding the national average rate of growth of 3.9%. In a handful of states, Arizona, Maryland, North Carolina, Tennessee, and West Virginia, enrollments are up at both undergraduate and graduate levels. In Ohio and Pennsylvania, however, both undergraduate and graduate enrollments fell (See Figure 5).

With more data from colleges arriving at the Clearinghouse daily, the next update to the Stay Informed with the Latest Enrollment Information research that tracks the impact of COVID-19 on postsecondary enrollments is scheduled for October 15. Unlike the Research Center’s normal Current Term Enrollment Estimates’ report series, Stay Informed highlights year-over-year changes, using 2018 and 2019 historical data as pre-pandemic baselines and creating fixed panels of institutions that have submitted data as of each month. This allows the Research Center to provide early insights with preliminary data before the full enrollment reporting is completed for the term. The Research Center will update the data monthly, for various subgroups of students, programs, institutions, states, or regions.

About the National Student Clearinghouse® Research Center™

The National Student Clearinghouse Research Center is the research arm of the National Student Clearinghouse. The Research Center collaborates with higher education institutions, states, school districts, high schools, and educational organizations as part of a national effort to better inform education leaders and policymakers. Through accurate longitudinal data outcomes reporting, the Research Center enables better educational policy decisions leading to improved student outcomes.

The Research Center currently collects data from more than 3,600 postsecondary institutions, which represent 97 percent of the nation’s postsecondary enrollments in degree-granting institutions, as of 2018. Clearinghouse data track enrollments nationally and are not limited by institutional and state boundaries. To learn more, visit