Hopeful sign among first-time enrollments

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A new national report on college enrollments for this fall confirms the continued drop of students attending community college during the Covid pandemic, though at a much lower rate. It also supports a promising sign: Enrollment of first-time freshmen at public two-year colleges may be stabilizing.

The data from the National Student Clearinghouse (NSC) Research Center released today show overall enrollment at public two-year colleges is down -3.4% (161,800 students) for fall 2021, compared to -10.1% in fall 2020 and -1.4% in fall 2019 (pre-Covid). Among first-time freshmen in the sector, enrollment is up 0.4% (or about 3,000 students) to 711,717 for this fall. In fall 2020, community college freshmen enrollment tanked by -18.2% (or 157,551 students). In fall 2019, it was down -0.1%.  

The increase among community college freshmen is due to an increase in students over age 24. That population saw enrollment jump 16.1% (or 11,896 students) this fall to 85,700. In fall 2020, enrollment among older freshmen dropped -30.8% (or 32,833 students). In fall 2019, enrollment for over-24 freshmen at public two-year colleges decreased by -6.8%.

Among community college freshmen ages 24 and younger, enrollment this fall dipped -1.4% (or 8,914 students) to 626,017. In fall 2020, enrollment in the age group dropped -16.4%; in fall 2019, it increased 0.9%.

In the public four-year sector, first-time freshmen enrollments decreased in fall 2021 by -0.5% to 907,878 (or nearly 5,000 students). Among freshmen ages 24 and younger, enrollment dropped -0.9%, and among those over age 24 it increased 9.8%.  

Reality check

Despite the hopeful news regarding freshmen, the figures for non-freshmen are less encouraging as continued decreases pile on to the previous year’s drops. Enrollment among all higher education sectors for traditional college-age students declined by -2.4% (254,105 students), with the sharpest declines among public two-year colleges at -5.3% (135,391 students). In fall 2020, the drop was -11.9% (348,948). For all two-year college students over age 24, enrollment decreased by -2.3% (36,259 students), compared to -10.7% (192,166) in fall 2020.

The rate of decline among men attending community college has slowed this fall to -1.7% (32,610 students) compared to -14.7% in fall 2020 (332,385 students). Women students at public two-year colleges had a higher rate of enrollment decline this fall than men: -4.5% (129,230 students), compared to -6.8% in fall 2020.  

Next week, the NSC Research Center will release an update to its COVID-19: Transfer, Mobility, and Progress report.

About the Author

Matthew Dembicki
Matthew Dembicki edits Community College Daily and serves as associate vice president of communications for the American Association of Community Colleges.