No ‘quick turnaround in sight’: Report finds enrollment losses continue

by Jeremy

Dive Brief:

Dive Insight:

The preliminary data reflects enrollment figures from fewer than half of the institutions that work with the clearinghouse. The numbers will likely fluctuate as more colleges report to the center, Doug Shapiro, it’s executive director, told reporters on a call Wednesday. But the data shows similar levels of enrollment declines from the fall, meaning there’s no “quick turnaround in sight,” Shapiro said. The early numbers show the continuation of a troubling trend from the fall: significant enrollment declines at two-year schools.


Community college enrollment suffered the most out of all the sectors this fall, with about a 10% annual decrease, earlier Clearinghouse data indicates. Despite predictions, students would flock to two-year colleges during the economic downturn, which occurred in response to the Great Recession.

This spring, enrollment at public two-year colleges dropped by 9.5% year over year, based on the new data so far.

Associate degree programs, some of which are more directly career-oriented, are harder to adapt online, which most institutions have had to do in response to the pandemic, Shapiro said. Community colleges also tend to serve more low-income students, drastically affected by the health crisis.

“Those students and families are facing the largest hurdles staying enrolled,” Shapiro said.

The overall drop was somewhat mitigated by the growth of graduate student enrollment, which is up by more than 4% year over year, preliminary figures show. Graduate student enrollment at public four-year colleges jumped by more than 6% for the period.  The data also breaks out patterns by race and ethnicity. The most significant drops occurred among Native American undergraduates, with a 12.5% decline from last spring. White and Black students had decreases of 7.7% and 7.4%, respectively. Undergraduate international student enrollment plummeted by 15.6% compared to the previous year. International student enrollment was lagging before the pandemic, which cut their numbers further, recent data shows.

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