Update shows undergraduate enrollment decline growing to 3.5% this fall

Dive Brief: 

  • Undergraduate enrollment sank 3.5% this fall, according to the latest data from the National Student Clearinghouse Research Center. The figures, based on almost three-fourths of institutions reporting their enrollment as of Oct. 21, are largely in line with numbers the organization released last month.
  • Overall, higher education enrollment is 2.6% below last year’s numbers. Graduate enrollment, which increased 2.1% year over year, helped stem some of the undergraduate losses.
  • Undergraduate enrollment continued to decline across all types of institutions, though four-year for-profits and community colleges bore the brunt of the losses, with respective drops of 8.5% and 6%.

Dive Insight: 

The Clearinghouse’s latest figures for the fall continue to show a bleak picture for colleges, many of which are suffering from enrollment losses at the same time they’re on the hook for increased expenses from the pandemic. 

“Today’s data are largely consistent with last month’s report,” Doug Shapiro, executive director of the National Student Clearinghouse Research Center, said in a statement. “And with more schools counted, the trends raise even more troubling concerns for students and institutions from the first pandemic year.” 

Undergraduate enrollment declined while graduate enrollment rose

Fall 2021 year-over-year enrollment changes by institution type

Even institution types that initially saw smaller declines last year than others are seeing worrisome trends. Four-year publics saw a year-over-year undergraduate enrollment loss of 2.5% this fall — steeper than the 1.6% decline they saw last fall. Likewise, four-year for-profits saw an 8.5% drop in undergraduates this fall compared to a 2.6% decline last fall. 

Undergraduate enrollment losses continue to be uneven across demographic groups. White, Black and Native American students saw the largest drops, with declines between 5% and 6%. 

At least 41 states have seen declines in undergraduate enrollment. Mississippi had the largest drop, with 9.2%. Indiana and New Mexico rounded out the top three largest declines, with respective losses of 7.1% and 6.8%. 

Conversely, graduate enrollment is still on the rise, with at least 40 states seeing an increase in these students. Maine, Georgia, Massachusetts and Florida saw particularly large upswings, with all four states clocking graduate enrollment increases of at least 6% this fall. 

The news comes a few days after new international enrollment data showed a 15% year-over-year decline in foreign students enrolled at U.S. institutions. However, a survey of more than 860 institutions showed a small rebound this fall, with those schools reporting that their total international enrollment increased by 4%.