DataPoints: Who starts when?


Fall headcount enrollment (the number of students enrolled in an institution during the fall term) is the predominant statistic used to report community college enrollment. However, a significant portion of community college enrollment is missed by not including students enrolled in other terms who were not enrolled in the fall – known as the full-year enrollment. On average, fall headcount enrollment only comprises 70% of each college’s full-year enrollment, increasing total public community college enrollment from 5,801,800 in fall 2021, to 8,641,014 during the full 2021-22 academic year.

The following analysis examines enrollment trends of students who begin at a given community college, based on the attendance status of their first term (full-time or part-time) and whether it is their first postsecondary enrollment after high school (first-time) or if they had a prior postsecondary enrollment (transfer-in).

Figure 1 shows the distribution of attendance status, with first-time status separate from students who began in fall 2021 and students who began any other time during the 2021-2022 academic year (non-fall). These data suggest that fall starters are more traditional than students who enroll in a community college for the first time outside the fall term. Approximately 70% of students who began in the fall are first-time in college students (42.1% first-time, full-time and 27.5% first-time, part-time). 

By contrast, the largest group of non-fall starters were transfer-in, part-time students (43%). They include students who are enrolled in other institutions but take a class or two at a community college, such as students who are home from a university for the summer taking supplemental classes at a local community college.

Figure 2 shows the trend for the three most recent years for which data is available, including the first two years of the pandemic. During this period, fall full-time enrollment decreased as a percentage of enrollments new to the college in each academic year, while the percentage of students who began full-time outside the fall term increased over the same time.

The share of students who began first-time in the fall dropped between fall 2019 and fall 2020, along with a decrease over the three years of students transferring in each fall, reflecting the changes in enrollment patterns in the first fall term during the pandemic. Conversely, the share of students who transferred in after the fall term increased between the 2019-20 and 2020-21 academic years.        

About the Author

Kent Phillippe
Kent Phillippe is vice president for research and student success at the American Association of Community Colleges.
The owner of this website has made a commitment to accessibility and inclusion, please report any problems that you encounter using the contact form on this website. This site uses the WP ADA Compliance Check plugin to enhance accessibility.