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Spring Enrollments Continue Downward Trend

The enrollment losses of fall 2020 have continued this spring, according to preliminary data from the National Student Clearinghouse Research Center. Overall, college enrollment is down 2.9 percent compared to last spring.

The decline is entirely on the undergraduate side, which is down 4.5 percent, while graduate enrollment is up 4.3 percent. Community colleges have seen the biggest dip — down 9.5 percent compared to one year ago. The undergraduate decline crosses all racial and ethnic categories. And international enrollments are also down (nearly 16 percent for undergraduates and more than 5 percent for graduate students).

Notably, enrollment in certificate programs is up at both the undergraduate and graduate levels — which increased by 3.3 percent and 15.4 percent, respectively, compared to spring 2020. And enrollment at primarily online institutions (defined as those where more than 90 percent of students enrolled exclusively online pre-pandemic) is up 7.1 percent for undergraduates and up 7.4 percent at the graduate level.

"There's no quick turnaround in sight for undergraduate enrollment declines driven by the pandemic," said Doug Shapiro, executive director of the National Student Clearinghouse Research Center, in a statement. "Education institutions, high schools and policymakers will need to work together to help bring back the learners who are struggling during the pandemic and recession."

Enrollment numbers are based on data as of Feb. 11, 2021, reported by 43 percent of the institutions participating in the Clearinghouse, totaling 6.7 million students. The Clearinghouse plans to update its results in late April. The preliminary report is available on the Clearinghouse site.

About the Author

Rhea Kelly is editor in chief for Campus Technology, THE Journal, and Spaces4Learning. She can be reached at [email protected].

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