Enrollments continue to slide this fall

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Enrollments at community colleges continued to drop this fall by -5.6%, according to preliminary information from the National Student Clearinghouse (NSC) Research Center. Combined with the -9.0% decline two-year colleges experienced last fall, enrollments at community colleges have dropped -14.1% since fall 2019.

“Enrollments are not getting better; They are getting worse,” said Doug Shapiro, the center’s executive director. “And community colleges remain the most adversely affected sector.”

Public two-year colleges again are seeing a drop among students of all ages. The rate of decrease for students ages 25 to 29 accelerated to -9.1% from -8.3% last fall, according to early data submitted to the center from colleges. The rate of decline slowed most among students older than age 29 (-1.2% compared to -9% last fall) and among students younger than age 18, who are mainly dually enrolled (-0.2% compared to -5.3% last fall).

Excluding students under age 18 and older than 29, enrollment among community college students has dropped since fall 2019 by -16.6% to -17.4% among the three age groups (ages 18 to 20, 21 to 24, and 25 to 29).

A broader overview

All sectors of higher education are seeing decreases again this fall, according to the data released today. Overall, undergraduate enrollments dipped by -3.2% this fall, compared to -3.4% last fall. Since 2019, enrollment at all U.S. colleges and universities has declined -6.5%.

Public two-year institutions again are seeing sharp drops among freshmen at -6.1%. This year’s freshman class at community colleges is now -20.8% below the class that came in two years ago, according to the center. Overall, the drop among all undergraduate college and university freshmen is -12.3% compared to 2019.

Delving into the demographics, Black freshmen fell the most in public two-year colleges, seeing a -11.4% drop. Since 2019, enrollment of Black freshmen at community colleges has declined by one-third (-33.4%).

The fall 2021 drop among freshmen is followed by a -10.2% decline among White freshmen at public four-year institutions and a -9.4% decrease among White students at community colleges. Asian freshmen at community colleges saw an increase of 1.4%, following a -15.4% drop in fall 2020.

The center also follows enrollment data based on gender. The rate of decline among men enrolling at community colleges slowed significantly this fall (-4.7% compared to -14.1% in fall 2020), but the rate of decline among women enrolling at community colleges grew to -6.8%, compared to -5.8% last fall. Still, over a two-year period since fall 2019, the rate of decline among men at community colleges is greater than the rate among women (-18.1% and -12.2%, respectively).

About the Author

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