College enrollment plummets — again

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Undergraduate enrollment in 2021 fell by 3.1% over the previous year, or by nearly 465,300 students compared to the previous year, according to new data. National Student Clearinghouse Research Center.

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Why this matters: College enrollment has been declining for nearly a decade, but the pandemic is accelerating the trend, raising concerns about a possible generational shift in attitudes toward higher education.

By numbers: According to the report, since the start of the pandemic, undergraduate enrollment has declined by 6.6% – more than 1 million students.

  • Public two-year colleges remain the hardest-hit sector since the pandemic began, down 13.2% since 2019.
  • There has been a sharp decline in students seeking associate degrees, with a decline of 6.2% this year and 14.1% in the last two years.
  • Freshman enrollment stagnated in fall 2021 after seeing a sharp drop in 2020. Nevertheless, enrollment among first-year students is 9.2% below pre-pandemic levels.
  • Enrollment in each of the five largest companies — business, health, liberal arts, biology and engineering — fell sharply this year, with the liberal arts falling the most, declining 7.6%.
  • Undergraduate student enrollment dropped 0.4%, or 10,800 students.
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big picture: While college enrollment has declined during the pandemic, it was on a downward trend since 2012.

What are they saying: Doug Shapiro, executive director of the National Student Clearinghouse Research Center, said in a statement, “Our final look at 2021 enrollment shows another year of COVID-19 as the college continues to sit in droves. ”

  • “Without a dramatic re-engagement in their education, the potential loss to these students’ earnings and future is significant, which will greatly affect the entire nation in the years to come.”
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