Sep 26, 2020 - Economy & Business

Summer college enrollment offers a glimpse of COVID-19's effect

student moves into a dorm on college campus
Student moves on campus. Photo: Mark Makela/Getty Images

Community college enrollment for the summer dropped nearly 6% since last year, along with declines in Black and male student enrollment in colleges and universities overall, a report from the National Student Clearinghouse Research Center reveals.

Why it matters: Colleges need students to survive. The data show how the coronavirus pandemic could be affecting the fiscal health of higher education institutions, including demographic shakeups.

By the numbers: The organization’s data counts 7 million students enrolled in summer sessions at 2,300 colleges in the U.S.

  • Summer undergraduate enrollment increased at public and nonprofit four-year colleges from a year ago.
  • Four-year for-profit institution enrollment also fell.
  • Enrollment among Black students declined by about 6% compared to a 2% drop in 2019, but rose 8.5% among Asian students and 3.3% among Hispanics for the same time period.

The big picture: The report defies what experts have known to be true about college enrollment during a recession.

  • Community college and for-profit institution enrollments rose during the Great Recession. The opposite occurred this summer.
  • Experts and even college presidents speculated students would enroll in community college during the COVID-19 era, with its less expensive tuition and trade specialties. Instead, enrollment fell across all other groups based on race and ethnicity, age, gender and location. 

What's next: Undergraduate enrollment fell 2.5% from last year, the National Student Clearinghouse reports, with community colleges feeling the sharpest drop of nearly 8%.

Go deeper