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Fall 2020 Enrollment Numbers Drop by 2.5 Percent


Overall college enrollment figures for the fall 2020 semester declined by 2.5 percent, according to the latest data of the National Student Clearinghouse Research Center. This fall semester recorded roughly 17.5 million students compared to last year’s 17.9 million students.

The decline was double that of last year, which showed a decrease in enrollment of 1.3 percent. According to the research center, “Undergraduate enrollment was the primary driver for this decline, decreasing 3.6 percent or over 560,200 students from 2019.”

Public two-year institutions, such as community colleges, have been hurt the most as they experienced a 10.1 percent decrease. This translates to the loss of more than 544,200 students. Private nonprofit schools that offer four-year degree programs also saw a small decline of 0.1 percent in student enrollment.

“As the fall semester comes to a close, the impact of the pandemic seems to be disproportionately affecting disadvantaged students by keeping them out of college,” said Doug Shapiro, Executive Director of the National Student Clearinghouse Research Center.

“We observe an even sharper picture, as the immediate college enrollments of those from high poverty, low income, and urban high schools have been hit the hardest. The enrollment gaps appear to be widening because of COVID-19 and the recession,” he added.

Other Enrollment Data

However, other institutional sectors welcomed growth. Students at public four-year institutions increased by 0.2 percent, which means that they’ve added around 14,376 more students. Private for-profit colleges grew their enrollment by 5.3 percent, or about 40,000 students, over last year.

Graduate enrollment figures across all sectors witnessed massive growth with a 3.6 percent increase compared to 2019. The positive performance of public four-year colleges and universities is due to their graduate programs, which ushered in around 62,000 students.

Freshmen and dual enrollment of high school students, on the other hand, showed poor numbers.

Overall freshmen enrollment decreased by 13.1 percent, which is largely related to the losses experienced by public two-year institutions. Private non-profit four-year schools recorded a 10.5 percent drop while public four-year institutions are also down by 8.1 percent.

These figures show improvement from the previously anticipated 3 percent overall decline in enrollment for fall 2020 made by Clearinghouse but it is clear that the pandemic has negatively impacted the US higher education sector.

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