Enrichment Education

College enrollment falls for third straight year

Preliminary data show that the dip in enrollment might actually be slowing down
Empty college classroom.

Story at a glance

  • New preliminary data from the National Student Clearinghouse shows that undergraduate enrollment has declined again.  

  • The data also show a change in the pandemic-era spike in graduate enrollment.  

  • College and universities across the U.S. enrolled 1.1 percent fewer students since the fall of 2021, the data show.  

Undergraduate enrollment in the United States dropped again for the third year in a row, according to preliminary data released Thursday.  

The data show colleges and universities across the country enrolled 1.1 percent fewer undergraduate students between the fall of 2021 and 2022 keeping up with a decadelong trend.  

This data could change by the end of the year though. For the preliminary report, the National Student Clearinghouse gathered data on 10.3 million undergraduate and graduate students, more than 60 percent of the institutions that the organization is analyzing for the report.  

Last school year’s loss of students has led to a 3.2 percent drop in undergraduate enrollment since 2020, the data show. 

In a reverse of last year, graduate enrollment has also dipped by 1 percent, potentially marking the end of a pandemic-era uptick in post-baccalaureate students.  

But while the data show that total enrollment is still going down, it also reflects a change for the better in the historic drop in college enrollment that started at the beginning of the pandemic in 2020.  

Last year’s drop in college enrollment is only half the rate of decline that took place the year before, researchers found.  

Over the last two years, about 1.3 million fewer students have enrolled in an institution of higher learning, according to the National Student Clearinghouse, which also released Thursday’s data.  

“I certainly wouldn’t call this a recovery,” Doug Shapiro, executive research director at the National Student Clearinghouse, the organization that conducted the research, told NPR. “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.” 

Undergraduate and graduate enrollment dropped across all types of institutions of higher learning, but the steepest drops happened at for-profit, four-year schools and public four-year schools.  

Community colleges saw the smallest decline in enrollment with only 0.4 percent fewer students compared to the fall of last year.  

This slower decline in enrollment was most likely due to an 11.5 percent increase in the number of high school students choosing to dual enroll in a community college, according to the data.  

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