Pandemic had little effect on spring enrollment status

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Despite all the uncertainties and moving parts on campuses as a result of the pandemic, college students pretty much stayed on course and didn’t withdraw or take fewer classes, according to a new analysis of data by the National Student Clearinghouse Research Center. 

The general status quo in enrollment intensity seems the same across demographic characteristics and institution types, and is consistent with the prior two years, the center says. In 2018 and 2019, only 13 percent of students changed their enrollment status during the term. In 2020, the percent dropped slightly, to 12 percent, according to the report.

Community colleges followed a similar pattern. A lower percentage of public two-year college students changed their enrollment status between the start and end of the term: 18 percent in 2020, 19 percent in 2019 and 20 percent in 2018.

“Little or no change in enrollment status is a reassuring sign that most college students were able to stay on course during the first two months of the pandemic,” Doug Shapiro, the center’s executive director, said in a press release. “However, there were early signs of broader impacts that are underway.”

For example, more students than usual appeared to take approved leaves of absence, especially among African-American and Hispanic students, the center says. 

Monitoring leaves of absence

In 2018 and 2019, leaves of absence taking effect during the spring term accounted for 0.026 percent of all enrollees, according to the report. The number almost doubled to 0.045 percent this year (about 6,400 students).

But the growth was not even across racial and ethnic lines. African-American and Hispanic students saw an increase of 206 percent and 287 percent, respectively, compared to whites (70 percent) or Asians (59 percent). 

The center also noted that there is no evidence for newly unemployed adults suddenly returning to college (particularly online colleges) or switching from studying part-time to full-time. 

More details online

The center has created a new interactive data dashboard on its website that shows the impacts for different institutions, including historically black college and universities, Hispanic-serving institutions, rural or urban institutions, high transfer or highly vocational community colleges. In addition, an appendix shows intra-term changes by state and by student demographics (age, gender and race/ ethnicity) at both undergraduate and graduate levels, as well as for primarily online institutions. 

The new report supplements the center’s annual spring enrollment report, which showed that overall the steady national decline in college enrollment over the last few years had slowed slightly, from about -1.5 percent annually to just -0.5 percent this year. At the same time, the national six-year college completion rate continues to increase. Findings were based on pre-pandemic data.

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