NSC Enrollments At High End of Estimated Range

Late last week the National Student Clearinghouse put out their initial current term enrollment reports for Fall 2022 in US higher education. The quick read is that overall enrollment across all sectors, for undergraduate and graduate levels combined, declined 1.1% from Fall 2021. As many news organizations have reported, that decline is not as steep as it has been in the past few years, coming down from 4.7% in Spring 2022, but we are out of the pandemic in terms of no further emergency campus closures yet enrollment is still declining. Making matters worse, freshman enrollment declined in all sectors (down 1.5%) except for the public 2-year sector (mostly community colleges) with a 0.9% increase. On that point, the most positive note from the NSC report is that public 2-year schools declined just 0.4% from Fall 2021 after disastrous losses the previous two years.

I won’t summarize all the findings, as you can find coverage from Inside Higher Ed, the Chronicle, Higher Ed Dive, NPR, WSJ, and many others.

Updated Model

PhilOnEdTech readers should not be surprised by the numbers given the estimates from early October.

If I had to guess, based on connecting a bunch of dots I would put overall enrollment declines for US higher education in the range of 1% – 3% for Fall 2022, but with more success stories than we have seen in the past 30 months. Feel free to comment if you have additional information to fill in more dots.

The 1.1% decline is on the optimistic end of that range, which is good to see. Keep in mind that this report from NSC is from 63% of their reporting school enrollments, and it may change somewhat by the end of the year.

Given these numbers, I’m updating our combined IPEDS / NSC enrollment model with the listed sector enrollment changes embedded. This model uses adjusted sectors, removing the effects since 2012 of sector changes due to community colleges adding a few bachelor degree programs and moving from public 2-year to public 4-year sector, and from nonprofit conversions where for-profit schools becoming nonprofit.

MindWires Oct 2022 model of US higher ed enrollment by adjusted sector 2012 - 2022

Primarily Online Institutions

NSC reported on Primarily Online Institutions again (no data for Spring 2022), with that group defined as “where more than 90 percent of students enrolled exclusively online prior to the pandemic,” with a 3.2% increase for undergraduate enrollment and a 0.9% decrease for graduate enrollment (and 0.4% decrease overall). This is much better results than for Fall 2021, with a 1.9% undergraduate decline and 6.9% graduate decline.

POI Enrollment Changes

Change in POI enrollment for Fall 2021 and Fall 2022

Inside Higher Ed had an interesting article recently on the new interest in purely online education by younger undergraduates.

National online universities like Western Governors and Southern New Hampshire University remain primarily destinations for working adults, which has allowed leaders of many traditional colleges and universities to think of them as “other” and not as competitors. It’s premature to know whether their growing numbers of traditional-age students signal a larger shift in enrollment patterns toward fully online learning.

But a national survey conducted in 2022 suggests that the number of high school juniors and seniors planning to attend fully online colleges has more than doubled since before the pandemic. Though this population is still small, the tens of thousands of traditional-age undergraduates big online universities are now enrolling would be eagerly welcomed by the many four-year residential campuses and community colleges that are seeing their enrollments fall.

That is a trend worth watching, as traditionally most fully-online students are either working adults older than 24, and often in graduate degree programs.

Certificates for the Win

One final note that I have not seen covered in the media. Enrollment in certificate programs, both undergraduate and graduate levels, were up (2.5% and 2.6% respectively) whereas all other credential types were down.

enrollment changes by credential type