Rate of Decline Accelerates Compared to Fall 2021
HERNDON, VA – (May 26, 2022) – Undergraduate enrollment declined by more than 662,000 students or 4.7% from spring 2021, according to a new report by the National Student Clearinghouse Research Center. To date, the undergraduate student body has dropped by nearly 1.4 million students or 9.4% during the pandemic. The annual rate of decline this spring is steeper than fall 2021’s drop of 3.1%, and just slightly below the 4.9% drop in spring 2021.
Meanwhile, total postsecondary enrollment of approximately 16 million students, which includes graduate students, has fallen a total of 4.1% from last spring, or 685,000 students, per the Spring 2022 Current Term Enrollment Estimates’ report. This follows a 3.5% drop last spring. All institutional sectors experienced varying degrees of enrollment declines this spring. Overall, postsecondary enrollment declined a total of nearly 7.4% or 1.3 million students since this time two-years ago.
“College enrollment declines appear to be worsening,” said Doug Shapiro, executive director, National Student Clearinghouse Research Center. “Although there may be some signs of a nascent recovery, particularly in a slight increase of first-year students, the numbers are small, and it remains to be seen whether they will translate into a larger freshman recovery in the coming fall.”
Top Spring 2022 Current Term Enrollment Estimates Findings Include:
- The public sector, community colleges and four-year institutions combined, experienced the steepest drop, of more than 604,000 students or a 5% decline (see Table 1).
- Community colleges continued to suffer the most, with 351,000 fewer students or a drop of 7.8%. This decline represents more than half of the total postsecondary enrollment losses this term and amounts to a total loss of more than 827,000 community college students since spring 2020 (see Table 2).
- First-time, first-year enrollment increased this spring 4.2% or 13,700 students. This follows a decline of 3.5% or 11,800 students the previous spring. Nearly 340,000 freshmen enrolled for the first time this spring, with nearly six out of 10 starting at a community college. Community college freshmen increased by 6,000 students or 3.1%, after experiencing declines the previous spring of 23,000 students or a 10.7% loss. This spring, public four-year colleges reported the largest freshmen increase of 7,300 students or a 10.8% bump. First-time enrollments are typically much less in spring than in fall terms (See Spring Freshman Enrollment Trends’ section, page 16).
There were more than 462,000 or 4.6% fewer women students this spring. This is more than double of the losses experienced the previous year, which leads to a two-year, total enrollment decline of 665,000 female students. Women declined the most at community colleges (-9.2% or 251,000 fewer women versus 100,000 or 5.6% fewer men). In all sectors, men declined by more than 220,000 students (see Table 7).
Enrollment of adults over age 24 fell by 5.8% or 354,000 students this spring, with half of this decrease (176,000 students or 10.8%) seen at community colleges (see Table 4).
Traditional college-aged students (18-24) continued to decline by 3.2% or 316,000 students since spring 2021, which is a slower pace from a 5% decline the previous year. Since the start of the pandemic, community colleges have lost nearly 20% of students in the traditional college age group and 16% of adult students (see Table 4).
In a special analysis of first-time, first-year students by race and ethnicity, Asian and Latinx freshman enrollment grew nationally over spring 2021, +15% and +4% respectively. In contrast, Black freshman enrollment declined by 6.5% or 2,600 students. The compounding previous losses results in a total of 18.7% or 8,400 fewer Black freshmen than in spring 2020.
Business, healthcare, and liberal arts continue to be the most common undergraduate majors for both four-year and two-year college students. The largest undergraduate majors at four-year institutions showed stagnant enrollment or continued drops, with a few exceptions such as computer sciences (+7.8% or 37,600 students) and psychology (+4.7% or 22,600 students). Meanwhile, two-year college skilled trades program enrollment increased this spring, including mechanic and repair (+11.5%, 9,950 students), culinary (+12.7%, 6,170 students), construction (+19.3%, 11,140 students), and precision and production (+16.7%, 7,740 students). However, only the growth of construction majors led to pre-pandemic levels of enrollment (see Tables 9 and 10).
The Current Term Enrollment Estimates (CTEE) Report Series is published in the spring and the fall of each year by the Research Center, with state-level spring enrollments broken out (see Tables 8a and 8b). A special analysis of the spring freshmen included this year highlights distinctive pandemic-related enrollment trends. The report provides national enrollment estimates by institutional sector, enrollment intensity, age group, gender, major field, and state. See the report’s methodological notes and understanding the numbers for other details.
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 % of the nation’s postsecondary enrollments in degree-granting institutions, as of 2019. Clearinghouse data track enrollments nationally and are not limited by institutional and state boundaries. To learn more, visit https://nscresearchcenter.org.