In the autumn of 2021, universities enrolled 1 million fewer students than before the pandemic

Diving overview:

  • Colleges enrolled approximately 1 million fewer undergraduates in the fall of 2021 than in the fall of 2019, according to data released Thursday by the National Student Clearinghouse Research Center, which captures the tax the pandemic has taken in the higher education sector.
  • This drop in students means that the number of college students enrolled this year was 6.6% lower than two years before the coronavirus arrived. The enrollment of university students fell by 3.1% in the autumn of 2021 compared to the previous year, which represents a decrease of 465,300 students.
  • The number of students seeking associate degrees fell by 6.2% year on year in the autumn. Enrollment for bachelor’s degrees fell by 3%, while for graduate programs once a bright spot for colleges decreased by 0.4%.

Diving statistics:

New message contains the expected final numbers of the Clearinghouse for autumn registrations in 2021. It follows from preliminary reports from this autumn, which estimated changes in enrolled dates using a different methodology and data from a smaller number of institutions. While the declines of undergraduates in the final report remain in line with the Clearinghouse earlier estimates, new data show that the number of enrolled graduates has fallen slightly, rather than increased.

University enrollment has fallen again across all types of institutions. Profitable four-year universities recorded the steepest decline in the autumn of 2021, when they fell by 11.1% or 65,500 students. Public four-year universities lost the largest number of students, namely 251,400, a decrease of 3.8%. Community colleges saw a decline of 3.4%, representing 161,800 students. The smallest decline was recorded by private non-profit four-year institutions, which fell by 2.2% this autumn, or 58,700 students.

The number of graduates decreased slightly after last year’s increase

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“Our latest look at the fall of 2021 shows that college students continue to dwell in droves as colleges go through the next year’s COVID-19,” said Doug Shapiro, executive director of the National Student Clearinghouse Research Center. “Without a dramatic re-engagement in their education, the potential loss of earnings and future of these students is considerable, which will significantly affect the nation as a whole in the years to come.”

Each type of institution saw a drop in the number of applicants in the autumn of 2021

Year-on-year changes in registrations by type of institution

After a sharp drop last year, entries in the first year showed signs of recovery. The number of first-year students increased slightly by 0.4% in the autumn, which represents about 8,100 students, but is still 9.2% lower than two years ago. Private non-profit four-year universities and two-year public universities led to an increase in the number of first-year students this autumn, although all other sectors continued to see declines in this population.

The decline in enrollment in community colleges slowed in the fall of 2021, but the sector remained most affected during the pandemic.

A recent article published in the National Bureau of Economic Research highlighted one of the reasons why community colleges have suffered. Disruptions to pandemic-related practical programs, such as construction crafts and mechanical repair technology, have contributed to the decline in community colleges, found paper which compared the minutes from autumn 2019 to autumn 2020.

The shocks affecting these programs, many of which are male-dominated, also partly explain why men’s enrollment in these schools has suffered.

However, these declines eased in the autumn of 2021. While the number of men enrolled in community colleges fell by 14.7% year-on-year in the fall of 2020, in the fall of 2021 it fell by only 1.7%, according to data released on Thursday. Meanwhile, enrollment in construction programs at community colleges increased by 17.5% year-on-year after falling sharply in the fall of 2020. In the fall of 2021, it was 64,051, slightly above the 61,180 recorded in the fall of 2019.

On the other hand, the number of university students enrolled in construction at four-year schools fell by 16.3% in the autumn. Other fields, including scientific technologies and family and consumer sciences, also saw double-digit declines at four-year institutions.


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