College Enrollment Dips Again as Pandemic Trend Continues

by Maggie Schneider
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College enrollment rates are declining as the coronavirus pandemic continues to surge across the country and throughout the world.

According to new data, undergraduate college enrollment rates continue to fall. Numbers for the Fall 2021 semester fell by 3.1%. The National Student Clearinghouse Research Center says that this percentage means approximately 465,300 students did not sign up for higher education programs.

While these numbers have declined over time, the coronavirus pandemic has sped things up. Since 2020, colleges have lost over 1 million students. This data shows a growing lack of interest in 4-year degree programs, public two-year colleges, and even graduate degrees.

Here are some statistics shared by The National Student Clearinghouse Research Center:

  • Public two-year college enrollments have dropped 13.2% since 2019.
  • Students seeking associate’s degrees dropped sharply, with enrollment falling 6.2% this year and 14.1% over the last two years.
  • Freshman enrollment stabilized in fall 2021 after seeing a sharp decline in 2020. Still, enrollment among first-year students remains 9.2% lower than pre-pandemic levels.
  • Enrollment in each of the five largest majors — business, health, liberal arts, biology and engineering — fell sharply this year, with liberal arts declining the most, with a 7.6% drop.
  • Graduate student enrollment dropped 0.4%, or 10,800 students.

The Future of College Enrollment Rates

So what does all of this data mean? How can higher education programs reengage their student bodies? Doug Shapiro, Executive Director of The National Student Clearinghouse Research Center, says that time is of the essence.

“Without a dramatic re-engagement in their education, the potential loss to these students’ earnings and futures is significant, which will greatly impact the nation as a whole in years to come,” he says.

Pepe Carreras, VP of the organization, says that colleges should adjust their priorities and better communicate with their communities. He says that the education system needs to listen to its student body in order to see positive change.

“I think whatever we do going forward will dictate our ability as a country to not only come out of this on the other side but to provide the lifelines to all of these different communities across the country to better themselves and help rebuild from where we are.”

He sees the pandemic as an opportunity to change college enrollment rates for the better. It’s about getting that student spark back.

“Education in general has been at a crossroads for a few years,” he adds. “And you know it’s unfortunate that something like the pandemic has to happen in order for us to push the pause button and really think about where we go home here and how we can improve.”

Outsider.com