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There is not a single factor that explains this phenomenon. Photo credit: Pexels.

Should we be concerned about the 1.1% declines in college enrollment?

Although the decrease is smaller than previous years, the number is still alarming. Over two years, more than 1 million fewer students enrolled in college.

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Many would think that such a small decline isn’t a big thing, but when you add it to the years-long equation of large decrease in enrollment since the start of the pandemic, this number becomes huge. 

Since Fall 2020, data has shown that less students have enrolled in all types of higher education institutions. Over the two years, more than 1 million fewer students enrolled in college.

Last week, on Oct. 20th, the National Student Clearinghouse Research Center released preliminary data showing that there was a drop of 1.1% of undergraduate students between the fall of 2021 and 2022. However, compared to previous years since the coronavirus started, this year’s decrease was the smallest.  

In a statement to reporters, Doug Shapiro, who leads the research center at NSC Research Center, said he wouldn’t consider this a recovery or a sign of stabilization. 

“We're seeing smaller declines,” he added. “But when you're in a deep hole, the fact that you're only digging a tiny bit further is not really good news.”

Although researchers and experts are trying to analyze the data to understand why this phenomenon keeps happening, not a singular factor can be credited. College affordability and student best, as well as a strong labor market for unskilled workers, were appointed by Shapiro as some of the main reasons. 

Regarding institutions, all of them were considerably impacted, with for-profit colleges showing the worst number — a 2.5% decline in the fall term. 

Considering that community colleges had the worst decrease in enrollment during the pandemic, the good news was that this type of institution saw the smallest decrease in enrollment, only 0.4%. Presenting some kind of optimism, they also had a 0.9% increase in first-year students, according to Higher Ed Dive. This positive change in community colleges is related to the increase in enrollment of high school students who will eventually go on to college.

When talking about freshman, Shapiro said the numbers were particularly concerning as there was a 1.5% decline in first-year students in general. 

As for graduate students, which had a 2.7% increase in the fall of 2020, continued to decrease in fall 2022 when compared to 2021 — dropping 1%. It is important to highlight that despite the recent decrease, graduate enrollment is still up slightly since the pandemic started. 

If you want to know more about the research: read NPR for more insights about the data, and Higher Ed Dive for graphics. 


 

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