Jun 15, 2022 - News

Texas undergraduate enrollment drops

Percentage change in undergraduate enrollment
Data: National Student Clearinghouse; Map: Kavya Beheraj/Axios

Undergraduate enrollment at Texas colleges and universities has declined by 4.1% since spring 2019 — a sign that students remain reluctant to head to campus since the pandemic began, according to a recent analysis by the National Student Clearinghouse Research Center.

Why it matters: College enrollment had already been declining nationally for nearly a decade, but the pandemic accelerated that trend. Just eight states saw an increase in enrollment in spring 2022, according to the analysis.

  • Plus, the loss of undergrads means a loss of revenue for universities, and that's deeply felt at more affordable, two-year colleges, which reported a 13.2% drop from 2019 to 2022.
  • Lawmakers used community college enrollment declines as a reason to slash state funding last year.

Zoom in: Austin Community College saw a roughly 15% decline in enrollment from fall 2019 to fall 2021, according to preliminary data from the Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board, which has not released spring 2022 figures for public colleges and universities.

  • Even from fall 2020 to 2021, Austin Community College enrollment fell by 10%, to 32,890 students.
  • Meanwhile, enrollment at the University of Texas increased slightly from fall 2019 to fall 2021.

Yes, but: The numbers don't tell the whole story, according to Melissa Curtis, Austin Community College's associate vice chancellor of enrollment management.

  • While the college reported an enrollment decline for traditional, hands-on courses, officials have recently noticed an increase in programs like fast-track credentials, which do not count toward official enrollment numbers.
  • "We do believe that we have turned a corner in terms of the pandemic impact," Curtis told Axios. "We traded off between some of our different instructional areas, trying to meet our students' needs for how they were making it through the pandemic."

What's next: There are some signs that students could be returning to campus.

  • An analysis by the National College Attainment Network shows a jump in FAFSA applications for the 2022-2023 cycle.
  • The U.S. Department of Education's Federal Student Aid office has found a strong correlation between completion of the FAFSA form and college enrollment.
  • Austin ISD saw an estimated 55-59% completion rate as of June 3, compared to 40-44% the previous year.

The bottom line: The full impact on the future of higher education remains unclear.

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