Quite an Update on Fall 2020 Enrollment in US

Call this the Mother of All Updates from the National Student Clearinghouse (NSC). I reported last month on their initial Fall 2020 postsecondary enrollment estimates for the US, where the headlines showed a 2.5% decline among undergraduates, while community college enrollment dropped 7.5%, and graduate enrollment increased 3.9% – all from the same period in 2019. That data came from roughly 22% of the 3,600 schools that NSC covers, but yesterday’s update covers 54%.

In short, the numbers are worse than the September estimate, with undergraduate enrollment dropping 4.0%, community college dropping 9.4%, and graduate increasing 2.7%. But the much more significant news is that enrollment from first-time beginning students was down 16.1%.

As described by Education Dive:

The decreases among first-time students is surprising and, in some cases, worrisome, Doug Shapiro, the center’s executive director, told reporters on a call Wednesday.

Across the sector, enrollment of these students was down 16% from a year ago. But that was steeper at community colleges, which recorded nearly 23% fewer first-time students.

“Those students are probably less likely to be able to come back, say, six months or even a year from now” than students who would be attending some four-year schools, Shapiro said. “I think there’s a real risk that this entire generation of students will take many, many years to recover from the declines.”

Inside Higher Ed covered some important points about in-person vs. online learning impacts on enrollment.

“We are hearing from several sources that community college students are looking for in-person learning,” Bumphus said in an email. “The disruption of in-person learning to remote was absolutely necessary but the enrollment figures show us that it is not a good long-term solution for many students. Because of the decline in enrollment as well as the economic impact of the pandemic, community colleges are potentially facing steep cuts to their funding allocations at a time when they need more support than ever. More importantly, hundreds of thousands of students are not getting the education they need to advance to higher level degrees and jobs.” [snip]

​Institutions that were primarily online before the pandemic are also doing well. At colleges where more than 90 percent of students took courses solely online pre-pandemic, enrollments are growing for both undergraduate (6.8 percent) and graduate students (7.2 percent).

There is more data available at the original link, at Tableau Public, or at the embedded Tableau charts below.