College Enrollment Trends Worsening as Pandemic Continues, New Report Finds

By Hugh T. Ferguson, NASFAA Staff Reporter 

As the ongoing coronavirus pandemic continues to upend college campuses’ fall semesters, enrollment numbers for most institutions have continued their downward trend for the upcoming semester, while enrollment at primarily online institutions continues to increase, according to an updated report from the National Student Clearinghouse Research Center.

The ongoing report, now in its second iteration, paints a concerning outlook for enrollment projections as more colleges provide data, with overall postsecondary enrollment down 3% as of September 24. Undergraduate enrollment is down 4% from last year, while the growth in graduate enrollment has decreased to 2.7%, compared to a 3.9% increase in the previous report.

Data obtained by the clearinghouse is currently based on 9.2 million students, or nearly 54% of postsecondary institutions that provided responses.

As the academic year has progressed the prognosis on enrollment has grown more grim — the report found  enrollment among all student groups identified on a path of decline in the initial report have fallen further.

Among the 47 states with available reporting data, only five had more undergraduate students compared to last fall, while the other 42 states reported declining undergraduate enrollment, ranging from decreases of 0.4% to 15.8%.“With more data, the downward trends identified in September’s First Look report appear steeper, while also emerging for more states and student groups,” said Doug Shapiro, executive director of the National Student Clearinghouse Research Center. “Most strikingly, freshman students are by far the biggest decline of any group from last year, with a decrease of 16.1% nationally and a 22.7% drop at community colleges in particular. First-time students account for 69% of the total drop in undergraduate enrollment.”

Additionally, among first-time students there was a greater decline in male enrollment, which saw a 18.1% drop, as compared to a 14.6% decrease among females.

However, the report did find a growth in year-over-year enrollment among graduate students (2.7% v. 0.9% growth) with the largest gain, an increase of 9.3%, seen by private for-profit institutions.

The report also identified a surge in enrollment at the undergraduate and graduate levels at primarily online institutions. The growth was particularly notable for undergraduate students under the age of 25, and for undergraduate and graduate students enrolling part-time. 

The next update is scheduled for November 12.


Publication Date: 10/16/2020

You must be logged in to comment on this page.

Comments Disclaimer: NASFAA welcomes and encourages readers to comment and engage in respectful conversation about the content posted here. We value thoughtful, polite, and concise comments that reflect a variety of views. Comments are not moderated by NASFAA but are reviewed periodically by staff. Users should not expect real-time responses from NASFAA. To learn more, please view NASFAA’s complete Comments Policy.

Related Content

Let's Talk: Supporting Institutional Enrollment Goals


Let's Talk: Supporting Institutional Enrollment Goals: Let's Talk: Supporting Institutional Enrollment Goals


View Desktop Version