College enrollment plummets — again
Undergraduate enrollment in fall 2021 fell 3.1% over the last year, or by approximately 465,300 students, compared with the previous year, according to new data from the National Student Clearinghouse Research Center.
Why it matters: College enrollment has been on the decline for nearly a decade, but the pandemic is accelerating the trend, raising concerns about a possible generational shift in attitudes about higher education.
By the numbers: Since the start of the pandemic, there has been a 6.6% — more than 1 million students — decline in undergraduate enrollment, per the report.
- Public two-year colleges remain the hardest hit sector since the pandemic began, with a 13.2% drop since 2019.
- Students seeking associate's degrees dropped sharply, with enrollment falling 6.2% this year and 14.1% over the last two years.
- Freshman enrollment stabilized in fall 2021 after seeing a sharp decline in 2020. Still, enrollment among first-year students remains 9.2% lower than pre-pandemic levels.
- Enrollment in each of the five largest majors — business, health, liberal arts, biology and engineering — fell sharply this year, with liberal arts declining the most, with a 7.6% drop.
- Graduate student enrollment dropped 0.4%, or 10,800 students.
The big picture: While college enrollment has plummeted throughout the pandemic, it had been on a downward trajectory since 2012.
- That's driven in part by changing demographic patterns that mean fewer college-age adults.
What they're saying: "Our final look at fall 2021 enrollment shows undergraduates continuing to sit out in droves as colleges navigate yet another year of COVID-19," Doug Shapiro, Executive Director of the National Student Clearinghouse Research Center, said in a statement.
- "Without a dramatic re-engagement in their education, the potential loss to these students’ earnings and futures is significant, which will greatly impact the nation as a whole in years to come."
Go deeper: The swoon in college enrollment