Enrollment trends in higher education

  • Community colleges have been the hardest hit. Enrollment in America’s two-year colleges has declined by 13.5% since the start of the pandemic. That represents 706,106 fewer community college students.
  • Fewer undergrads. Undergrad student enrollment shrank for all types of colleges, from the private universities and for-profit schools, to the traditional public colleges.
  • More graduate students in public colleges. On the other hand, the last two years of living in a pandemic has seen more people go back to college to earn an advanced degree. Public colleges and universities have been the drivers of increased graduate student enrollment, accounting for nearly 9 of 10 new grad students.
  • For-profit flight. After bucking trends in 2020, when undergrad enrollments actually increased, for-profits saw the steepest percentage enrollment decline in 2021 (-11.1% or 65,500 students).
  • Freshman enrollment: The freshman class in fall 2021 was 9.2% smaller (or 213,400 fewer students) compared to pre-pandemic levels in fall 2019. This suggests that it’s not just older students who are less likely to pursue traditional higher ed, but newly-minted high school graduates and first-timers as well.

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Geoff Decker

Geoff Decker

Curious storyteller, writer and reporter currently exploring journalism through teaching and learning.