College enrollment dropped by 3.1 percent in 2021, with a total loss of 465,300 students, according to a report by the National Student Clearinghouse Research Center (NSCRC).

Enrollment has declined by more than a million students since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020.

Enrollment at public four-year colleges fell by 3.8 percent, or 251,400 students, during the fall 2021 semester, while private for-profit, four-year college enrollment dropped by 11.1 percent or 65,500 students.


“The longer this continues, the more it starts to build its own momentum as a cultural shift and not just a short-term effect of the pandemic disruptions,” NSCRC Executive Director Doug Shapiro told The Washington Post. “Students are questioning the value of college. They may be looking at friends who graduated last year or the year before who didn’t go and they seem to be doing fine. They’re working; their wages are up.”

Students seeking associate degrees fell significantly compared to the previous year, with a decrease of 11 percent at public four-year colleges, 6.2 percent at private nonprofit four-year colleges and 11.9 percent at private for-profit four-year colleges.

Fall 2021 freshman enrollment was 9.2 percent less than the pre-pandemic number in the fall semester of 2019, although it grew by 0.4 percent compared to fall 2020.

Wyoming, Vermont and Delaware experienced the largest declines in fall enrollment over the past year. Enrollment increased in Arizona, Colorado, New Hampshire and South Carolina.

Enrollment in four-year colleges as a liberal arts major dropped by 7.6 percent, the highest of all majors. Computer science enrollment grew by 1.3 percent, while psychology enrollment grew by 2.5 percent.

Total higher education enrollment dropped by 2.7 percent during the fall 2021 semester, after a 2.5 percent drop in the fall of 2020.