Dual enrollment remains hot

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Spring enrollment at public two-year colleges continues to slide — though at a slower pace — but dual enrollment continues to grow at an unprecedented rate, according to a new report from the National Student Clearinghouse (NSC) Research Center.

Estimated enrollment of students under age 18 who enrolled this spring at a public two-year college increased by 40,840 to 510,389 — an 8.7 percent increase — when compared to last year. Enrollment in this age group increased by 17,247 students (3.8 percent) last spring, and roughly 9,500 (2.1 percent) in spring 2018.

Overall, dual enrollment has increased among all U.S. higher education sectors by 6.9 percent (46,737 students) this spring. Last spring, the increase among all sectors was 1.6 percent (10,588 students) and in spring 2018 there was a -1.2 percent decrease.

Among the 722,843 dual-enrolled students this spring, 71 percent were at a public two-year institution and 24 percent enrolled in a public four-year institution. The sector distribution of dual enrollments has remained relatively unchanged — 69 percent for public two-year colleges in 2019 and 67 percent in 2018.

A slower enrollment decline

Public two-year colleges continued to see a decline in enrollment when compared to last spring, but at a slower pace, mirroring a similar trend among all U.S. postsecondary institutions, according to the report.

Enrollment at public two-year colleges this spring dropped -2.3 percent compared to last year. The decline in spring 2019 was -3.4 percent. Until then, two-year colleges saw a steady slowdown in the rate of decline, from -3.3 percent in spring 2016 to -2.0 percent in spring 2018. Community colleges historically see a drop in enrollment when the economy is strong, as more jobs are available.

Among all postsecondary sectors, the drop in spring enrollment compared to last year was -0.5 percent. The previous year it was -1.7 percent.

The center noted that the data it used are pre-coronavirus and don’t reflect the effects of the pandemic. It added that it will issue a special report in June that will show within-term enrollment changes, such as withdrawals, new enrollments and enrollment shifts that may be attributable to the pandemic.

Drilling into the numbers

The report includes breakdowns by age, type of enrollment, gender and more. The decrease among full-time students at public two-year colleges slowed significantly this spring, a drop of -1.8 percent compared to -4.7 percent in spring 2019. The decrease among part-time students in this sector stayed about the same, -2.5 percent compared to -2.6 percent last spring.

Among students ages 18 to 24, spring enrollment at public two-year colleges dropped -2.5 percent, compared to -4.1 percent last spring and -0.8 percent in spring 2018. Only private, for-profit four-year institutions saw an increase (2.2 percent) among students in this age group.

Among learners over age 24, the decrease this spring at public two-year colleges was actually higher than last spring, -4.8 percent (87,928 fewer students) compared to -4.0 percent in 2019. In spring 2018, the decrease was -4.6 percent. All higher education sectors saw a drop in enrollment among older learners, though public two-year colleges saw the largest decline in percentage and number.

A look at states

Although many states saw a slowdown in overall spring enrollment decreases, 13 states saw an acceleration in declines and 13 states saw increases.

The top states with largest spring-to-spring enrollment decreases by number of students include:

  • California (-28,139)
  • Pennsylvania (-25,148)
  • New York (-20,439)
  • Ohio (-17,691)
  • Missouri (-15,529)

The top states with largest overall spring-to-spring enrollment increases by number of students include:

  • Arizona (18,131)
  • Utah (10,891)
  • New Hampshire (5,600)
  • North Carolina (4,372)
  • Kentucky (4,316)

About the Author

Matthew Dembicki
is editor of Community College Daily and serves as publications director for the American Association of Community Colleges.