First-year college enrollment drops 16 percent for fall

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Students at the University of Washington are on campus for the last day of in-person classes on March 6, 2020 in Seattle, Washington. The University will close starting Monday, March 9, as a precautionary reaction to the novel coronavirus, COVID-19, outbreak for the remainder of the winter quarter. (

First-year college enrollments fell 16 percent this fall due to many undergraduate registrations upended by complications caused by the coronavirus pandemic.

Undergraduate populations also shrank by 4 percent, while graduate enrollment increased by 2.7 percent, according to new data from the National Student Clearinghouse Research Center.

Clearinghouse’s data accounts for 9.2 million students surveyed from over half of the institutions that report back to the research center.

The research showed the 16 percent decrease this year was more severe than in 2019, which saw a 0.4 percent drop last fall.

Among gender demographics, the number of men enrolled in undergraduate programs fell by 6.4 percent, while women’s enrollment dropped 2.2 percent.

Enrollment declines were most pronounced at community colleges, falling 9.4 percent overall and 22.7 percent among first-year students.

States in the Midwest suffered the most significant decline of enrollment rates at 5.7 percent, followed by the West at 3.9 percent and the South and Northeast at 3.6 percent and 3.4 percent, respectively.

Doug Shapiro, executive director of the research center, said those who did not enroll in community colleges likely did so due to strains and economic obstacles due to the pandemic, Wall Street Journal reported.

He added that he fears “many of those students will never get back.”

The study also noted “the concerning enrollment trends” among minority demographics, citing that American Indian and Native Alaskan students suffered the sharpest decline in enrollments at 10.7 percent, followed by Black students at 7.9 percent. White students’ enrollments declined at 7.6 percent.

Still, enrollment rates grew 5.5 percent for primarily online institutions (POIs) following a significant drop — 6.3 percent — in 2019.

Notably, part-time student enrollments at POIs now make up 40.6 percent of POI undergraduate students, up from 37.5 percent last year.

Tags Coronavirus COVID-19 Higher education

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