Combined US Higher Education Enrollment Fall 2012 – Spring 2022

The two best sources for enrollment data for US Higher Education are the Department of Education’s IPEDS data set and the National Student Clearinghouse (NSC) reports. The NSC shares both the Current Term Enrollment Estimates reports (May and December) and ongoing Stay Informed estimates during the spring and fall terms as data comes in.

  • IPEDS: Based on census with nearly all institutions reporting; best for historical data but usually 12 – 18 months after the terms has ended

  • NSC Current Term: Based on survey with “97 percent of the total enrollments at Title IV, degree-granting institutions in the U.S.” reporting; best for summarizing the term just completed in a timely manner

  • NSC Stay Informed: Based on sample of surveys to date; best for estimates in near realtime

IPEDS most recent data release was for Fall 2020 as we covered here. NSC today released their Current Term Enrollment Estimates report for Spring 2022, with plenty of outlets covering the headline findings – namely that the enrollment declines continue to be worse than expected (maybe we should adjust our expectations?). Inside Higher Ed reported:

Enrollment across all sectors of higher education continued to decline this past semester, extending a trend that began during the coronavirus pandemic, according to new data from the National Student Clearinghouse Research Center. Total enrollment for spring 2022 fell by 4.1 percent.

The latest numbers mark the fifth semester in a row of declining overall enrollment. The report from spring 2020 counted 17.1 million students across all levels of higher education; that number is now 15.9 million.

The decline is even more marked at the undergraduate level, where NSC data show an enrollment drop of 4.7 percent for spring 2022. By the numbers, that means undergraduate enrollment fell by 662,000 students in spring 2022 and has dipped by around 1.4 million since the onset of the pandemic in 2020, according to the data released today.

You can read additional coverage at the Chronicle, Higher Ed Dive, and Business Journals.

With the new data, I’m updating our combined enrollment model where I started with existing IPEDS data for Fall 2012 through Fall 2020, and I used NSC growth / decline percentages to extrapolate IPEDS data for each sector for Fall 2021 and Spring 2022. The intent is to provide the historical context and accuracy of IPEDS along with the more timely updates from NSC.

I am showing Adjusted Sector data by removing the sector changes created by all the community colleges creating bachelor degrees and artificially reclassifying sectors. The Adjusted Sectors also remove the sector changes due to nonprofit conversions such as Purdue Global and UAGC. See here, here and here for a more complete explanation.

With that in mind, here is a combined enrollment model for Fall 2012 – Spring 2022.

MindWires model of US higher ed enrollment by adjusted sector for Fall 2012 through Spring 2022

It goes without saying that the data trends are ugly.

Now you can see the pandemic era enrollment declines in more context and get a better idea of the enrollment health of each sector in a more timely manner. I have modeled this as full-year data, essentially assuming that Fall 2021 and Spring 2022 changes point to expected Fall 2022 changes. When we get new data late this year, expect updates for 2021 (replacing NSC with IPEDS data) and 2022 (adjusting the model with NSC data scheduled for December).