Aug 22, 2022 - News

College enrollment continues to drop

Change in Ohio college enrollment estimates, by spring semester
Data: National Student Clearinghouse; Chart: Axios Visuals

Students head back to class at most of Ohio's colleges this week, but the number of them on campus continues to shrink.

What's happening: While yearly declines in two-year college enrollment appear to be rebounding to pre-pandemic levels, drops for four-year schools in 2021–22 were the largest yet.

By the numbers: Statewide enrollment has dropped more than 11% since spring 2019, with just over 500,000 students enrolled in spring 2022, per the National Student Clearinghouse Research Center.

The intrigue: For main campus enrollment, Ohio State hasn't been impacted as harshly as other Ohio universities, state data shows.

  • While statewide full-time enrollment at university main campuses dropped 8% from 2011–21, Ohio State's increased 1%, or by a few hundred students.
  • Enrollment has generally been affected less at state flagship universities, which tend to be more selective, research center executive director Doug Shapiro tells Axios.

State of play: One thing in all schools' favor — 2022–23 should be the most "normal" school year of the past three, with COVID-19 debates and restrictions largely absent.

  • Ohio State still requires students, faculty and staff to be fully vaccinated against the virus, but it isn't requiring the weekly surveillance testing it did last school year for on-campus students, a spokesperson tells Axios.

The big picture: College enrollment has been declining for nearly a decade across the nation, accelerated in recent years by COVID disruptions, Axios' Erin Doherty reports.

Context: A tight labor market has led to availability of more entry-level jobs with boosted pay.

  • Meanwhile, the cost to attend a public four-year school has tripled since 1990, calling into question the return on investment of going into debt to obtain a degree.

Yes, but: Historically, college graduates earn significantly more throughout their lifetimes than people without degrees.

  • And Ohio colleges and lawmakers are enacting new initiatives to increase affordability, including statewide second-chance grants, a debt-free degree program at Ohio State for low-income students, and free tuition at Columbus State Community College for Columbus City Schools graduates.

What we're watching: Colleges report fall enrollment on the 15th day of classes, so it'll be a little while before we know which schools are rebounding — but an Ohio Department of Higher Education spokesperson tells us several public campuses are expecting upticks.


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