Student enrollment at colleges and universities has dropped for the third consecutive year, continuing a trend that began during COVID and worrying higher education officials.
“While early signs led many to predict a slight rebound from the steep two-year drop-off during the pandemic, a new report from the National Student Clearinghouse Research Center shows that enrollment fell for the fifth semester in a row, dampening those hopes,” Inside Higher Ed reported.
“Overall enrollment fell by 1.1 percent, closer to pre-pandemic levels than the more drastic declines that shocked leaders over the past two years. The rate of decline has decreased by almost a third since fall 2020.”
The undergraduate count is now “about 7 percent lower than it was in fall 2019 before the coronavirus pandemic rocked higher education,” the Washington Post reported.
The news agencies’ data comes from a National Student Clearinghouse Research Center report, released Thursday.
“I certainly wouldn’t call this a recovery,” Doug Shapiro, the research center’s executive director, told the Post. “We’re seeing smaller declines, but when you’re in a deep hole, the fact that you’re only digging a tiny bit further is not really good news. … We don’t see a huge upsurge of first-year students, of freshmen, especially at the four-year institutions.”
The National Student Clearinghouse Research Center website states undergrad enrollment “fell across sectors, especially among four-year institutions. … Freshman enrollment fell in all four-year sectors, including highly selective private and public flagship institutions.”
Some billed the news as a positive sign. An NPR headline stated: “The college enrollment drop is finally letting up. That’s the good news.”
But Shapiro, the research center’s director, said in a news release that after “two straight years of historically large losses, it is particularly troubling that numbers are still falling, especially among freshmen.”
There are a few places where enrollment grew, however, namely Historically Black Colleges and Universities, or HBCUs, and online programs, the report found.
“Although the data reported are small, Historically Black Colleges and Universities’ undergraduate enrollment grew 2.5% this fall, which reversed declines of 1.7% in fall 2021. This growth was driven by a 6.6% increase in freshmen enrolling at HBCUs. In contrast, downward trend continued but at a smaller rate at Hispanic-Serving Institutions, -1.2% this fall versus -4.8% last fall, for total two-year losses of 6%,” the center’s news release stated.
“At primarily online institutions, where more than 90% of students enrolled exclusively online prior to the pandemic, undergraduate enrollment has grown by 3.2% from last fall. This was largely driven by younger students aged 18-20, for whom enrollment growth totaled 23.4% over two years since fall 2020.”
As The College Fix reported in July 2022, colleges have lost 1.3 million students in the past two years.
“College can certainly provide you with the best of that vast breadth and depth of what scholars have said, written, and thought … but it can also take up time and money in frivolous fads and pseudoscientific nonsense,” Stanley Ridgley, a management professor at Drexel University’s LeBow College of Business, said at the time.
“Bloated bureaucracy on the campuses along with a perceived decline in seriousness and courage by university administrations give people pause,” he had said.