The enrollment crisis at U.S. higher education institutions continued for a second year after the pandemic, even as coronavirus vaccines became generally available to students last fall, according to the latest figures from the National Student Clearinghouse Research Center.
Total undergraduate enrollments fell 3.1 percent from fall 2020 to fall 2021, bringing the total drop since fall 2019 to 6.6 percent — or 1,205,600 students.
“Our latest look at enrollment in fall 2021 shows that students are holding out in droves as colleges experience another year of Covid-19,” said Doug Shapiro, the executive director of the research center, which collects and analyzes data from 3,600 postsecondary students. settings.
Even before the pandemic, college enrollment declined nationally as the number of college-age students declined. At the same time, high tuition fees discouraged prospective domestic students, and the highly polarizing immigration debate drove international students away.
That decline then accelerated sharply as Covid-19 forced many classes online and limited campus life. The economic disruption caused by the pandemic also forced many prospective students into the workplace.
The new numbers show undergraduate enrollments at every type of university have declined, but public two-year colleges remain the hardest hit, with U.S. community colleges disproportionately affected.
Tens of thousands of students, many of them on low incomes, have had to postpone or drop out of school because of the pandemic and the economic crisis it has caused. The new data showed that community college enrollment fell by 13.2 percent, or 706,000 students, compared to 2019.
The number of aspiring students at four-year institutions also decreased, as did the number of students aged 24 and older.
“Without a dramatic re-engagement with their education, the potential loss to the income and future of these students is significant, which will have profound implications for the nation as a whole in the coming years,” said Mr. Shapiro in a press release.
There was one bright spot in the data: Freshman enrollment stabilized at about 0.4 percent or 8,100 students from 2020 to 2021.
Still, year one enrollment is 9.2 percent lower than the fall 2019 prepandemic level.