Enrollment continued to decline this spring at two- and four-year institutions

Spring 2022 enrollment data reveals another dramatic loss of students in higher education, a continuation of declines seen since the start of the pandemic.

That’s according to the National Student Clearinghouse Research Center’s Current Term Enrollment Estimate report, released each spring and fall. The Research Center collects data from more than 3,600 colleges, universities, and degree-granting programs, or 97% of all US post-secondary institutions.

Dr. Doug Shapiro, vice president of research and executive director of the National Student Clearinghouse.Dr. Doug Shapiro, vice president of research and executive director of the National Student Clearinghouse.Overall, at two- and four-year institutions, both public and private, enrollment fell 4.1%, a loss of about 685,000 potential students. This follows a 3.5% drop in enrollment in spring 2021, totaling a decline of nearly 1.3 million students since spring 2020. Public institutions and community colleges are, again, the sector most affected. Community college enrollment was down 7.8%, or about 351,000 students, representing more than half of the total spring 2022 losses.

“Spring enrollment is a continuation of what we saw in the fall, which is increasingly prevalent declines,” said Dr. Doug Shapiro, vice president of research and executive director of the National Student Clearinghouse. . “The declines are very widespread across all regions, but tend to be slightly less severe in the Southern region, and more severe in some of the Midwest and Northeast.”

Computer science remains a top major in two- and four-year institutions, and skilled trades programs saw an 11.5% increase in enrollment. Other programs like Culinary Arts and Construction also saw an increase in enrollment, but none of the increases exceeded levels seen before the pandemic.

The report contains good news. The number of freshmen enrolled in the spring semester jumped 4.2%, or about 13,700 students. The majority (58.4%) enrolled in a community college.

“Even though the numbers are very low in freshman spring enrollment, seeing positive turnout was positive information to share with the field and has to do with what’s happening at community colleges more than any other industry,” said Dr. Mikyung Ryu, director of research. publications in the National Student Clearinghouse. Spring enrollment for freshmen typically accounts for about one-fifth of total freshman enrollment in an academic year.

Disaggregating this 4.2% increase reveals gross inequity for black students. Across all sectors, spring enrollment for black freshmen fell 6.5%, while white, Latina, Asian, Native American and other-race enrollment increased.

Dr. Frank Fernandez, an assistant professor in the University of Florida’s School of Human Development and Organizational Studies in Education, said the negative impact on black students is troubling but not surprising.

Dr. Frank Fernandez, assistant professor in the School of Human Development and Organizational Studies in Education at the University of Florida.Dr. Frank Fernandez, assistant professor in the School of Human Development and Organizational Studies in Education at the University of Florida.“We know the pandemic has hit some minority groups harder than others,” Fernandez said.

Fernandez pointed to states whose enrollments have increased due to online-only institutions, such as New Hampshire and Arizona.

“It is potentially problematic. Online is great for increasing access, maybe less affordability. First-generation, low-income and minority students have the lowest success rates in online courses,” Fernandez said. “The self-paced nature of online education, if you don’t have parents who went to college, that kind of capital, it’s often harder to navigate.

Fernandez said these numbers can also serve as an indicator of how the higher education landscape has changed since COVID, including changes in traditional admissions patterns and the pathways students take to a post-secondary certificate are changing.

“We’ve heard people describe Gen Z as wanting an Amazon-like admissions market, ‘I want it now, and if I can’t get it, I’ll wait until spring, summer, or maybe be that I’ll jump in the fall and start somewhere different in the spring,” Fernandez said.

Although neither Fernandez nor Shapiro were surprised that enrollment was down again, Shapiro said he was surprised by the high rate.

“I’m surprised it’s getting worse,” Shapiro said. “I thought we would start to see some of those declines start to taper off a bit this quarter, especially because there’s a general feeling that we should be coming out of the effects of the pandemic at this point.”

Shapiro said the numbers could point to a bigger phenomenon, a sign that students are increasingly questioning the university’s value proposition, moving away from education and into a booming job market. .

“We’ve talked for years in higher education about college degrees being part of a ticket to the middle class and higher-paying jobs,” Shapiro said. “And I think there’s a lot of pandemic-triggered reassessment about the importance of career planning in that regard and the relative value of jobs that require or expect college degrees.”

Liann Herder can be contacted at lherder@diverseeducation.com.

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