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Undergraduate Enrollment Sees Steepest Decline Since the Pandemic

Undergraduate enrollment this spring has dropped 5.9 percent compared to last year — the steepest decline since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic. That's according to the latest data (as of March 25, 2021) from the National Student Clearinghouse Research Center, based on 12.6 million students and 76 percent of institutions that report to the organization.

Community colleges have been hit particularly hard, logging a decline of 11.3 percent, compared to 9.5 percent the previous year. The Research Center reported that this is the first time community colleges have experienced a double-digit decline during the pandemic. Also of note: Students aged 18-20, who make up more than 40 percent of all undergraduates, saw an enrollment decline of 7.2 percent — the largest decline of any age group. And for students in that age group attending community college, the enrollment drop was an even more precipitous 14.6 percent.

Graduate institution enrollment was a bright spot this spring, growing 4.4 percent. Still, overall postsecondary enrollment dropped 4.2 percent compared to a year ago.

"The continuing slide in community college enrollments is of great concern," said Doug Shapiro, executive director for the National Student Clearinghouse Research Center, in a statement. "In a sign of potentially long-lasting impact on the level of skills and credentials in the workforce, there is still no age group showing increases at community colleges, even after a full year of pandemic and related unemployment."

The full report is available on the Clearinghouse site. The Research Center has also produced a webinar discussion the pandemic's impact on college enrollment, available here.

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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