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College Undergraduate Enrollment Fell By More Than One Million Students Since 2019

- FORBES - GELLER REPORT - Michael T. Nietzel - FEB 8, 2022 -

Undergraduate enrollment decreased by 465,300 students, or 3.1%, in fall, 2021 compared to fall, 2020. That decline has brought the total enrollment slide to 1,025,600 undergraduates since fall, 2019, a period of time roughly corresponding to the Covid-19 pandemic in the U.S.

The figures come from a new report released today by the National Student Clearinghouse Research Center (NSCRC). Overall, national enrollment – counting both undergraduate and graduate students – decreased by 2.7% or 476,100 students in fall 2021, for a total two-year decline of 5.1% or 937,500 students since the approximate onset of the pandemic.

The enrollment losses occurred in almost all parts of the country and among all categories of students. In fact, total fall enrollment increased in only four states: Arizona (1.6%), Colorado (1.1%), New Hampshire (9.3%), and South Carolina (1.1%).

“Our final look at fall 2021 enrollment shows undergraduates continuing to sit out in droves as colleges navigate yet another year of COVID-19,” said Doug Shapiro, NSCRC Executive Director. “Without a dramatic re-engagement in their education, the potential loss to these students’ earnings and futures is significant, which will greatly impact the nation as a whole in years to come.”

Higher Education Sectors

Undergraduate enrollment declined across all of higher education’s major sectors.

  • Private, for-profit four-year colleges sustained the biggest percentage drop (-11.1% or 65,500 students).

  • Public four-year institutions lost the largest number of students (251,400), which was equal to a 3.8% decline compared to the previous year.

  • The decrease was smallest at private, nonprofit four-year institutions, which saw a loss of 58,700 students (2.2%) last fall.


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