The years-long decline in college enrollment appears to be stabilizing, with freshmen enrollment increasing substantially last fall. According to a new report by the National Student Clearinghouse Research Center (NSCRC) that revises earlier estimates, fall 2022 undergraduate enrollment dropped only .6% nationwide – equal to about 94,000 fewer students – compared to fall 2021.
While postsecondary enrollment remained well below pre-pandemic levels, down about 1.11 million students overall compared to fall 2019, freshman enrollment rebounded by about 97,000 students, a 4.3% uptick compared to the previous fall and cause for some long-awaited optimism among higher education. leaders.
Enrollment of graduate students, which has been a relatively bright spot throughout much of the pandemic, showed a reversal. Fall graduate enrollment decreased by 39,000 students, or 1.2%, after 3.0% growth in 2020 and a 2.4% increase in 2021.
Enrollment By Sector
The updated fall trends differed depending on the higher eduction sector.
- Undergraduate enrollment grew .4% at community colleges (a gain of about 16,700 students). The increase was driven largely by a surge in dual-enrollment students and represents a major turnaround from the 6.7% enrollment loss of a year earlier.
- Private, nonprofit four-year institutions saw a small drop of .1%, or about 2,500 fewer students, compared to a larger decline of 1.6% in the previous fall.
- Public four-year colleges had larger enrollment losses, dropping another 1.4%, or 88,000 students.
- Private for-profit four-year institutions added 29,000 students, a gain of 5.0% from fall 2021.
Male undergraduate enrollments bumped up slightly (+0.2%, +15,000 students), while female enrollment decreased (-1.5%, -122,000 students). This pattern was a continuation of the trend in improved enrollments for men relative to women first noted in fall 2021.
Latinx and Asian undergraduate enrollments increased by 1.6% and 1.8%, respectively. Those gains contrasted with declines among white (-3.6%), Black (-1.8%), and Native American students (-1.6%).
Every type of institution saw increases in their freshmen enrollment. The largest percentage gains were at private, for-profit schools (6.9%), followed by community colleges (6.1%), public four-year institutions (3.9%) and private nonprofit colleges (1.8%).
The largest freshmen increases by different racial/ethnic groups was for Latinx students (7.9%), followed by Asians (7.4%), Native Americans (6.9%) and Black students (.3%). White students were the only group to show a decrease in freshmen enrollment, with a drop of 2.4%.
“It is encouraging to start seeing signs of a recovery in the numbers of new freshmen,” said Doug Shapiro, Executive Director, National Student Clearinghouse Research Center, in NSCRC’s news release “Although freshmen classes are still well below pre-pandemic levels, especially at Community Colleges, the fact that they are swinging upward in all sectors is a positive indicator for the future.”
On average, states in the Northeast and Midwest saw overall undergraduate enrollment declines at approximately twice the national rate, losing 24,000 (-1.1%) and 34,000 (-1.2%) undergraduates, respectively.
Undergraduate enrollment grew marginally in the West (+0.5%, 20,000 students) and the South (+0.2%, 8,000 students).
Enrollment By Undergraduate Majors
Among the most popular undergraduate majors at four-year schools, enrollment in business programs grew from 2021 by about 19,000 students, an increase of 1.2%.
All the rest of the top five majors (health professions, liberal arts, biological sciences, and engineering ) saw declines. Computer and information sciences, currently the sixth most popular major, gained more than 10% or 54,000 students, continuing recent growth that appears to reflect good employment opportunities in those fields.
At two-year schools, enrollment in liberal arts majors stayed relatively flat (-.1%), while health professions and biology saw declines of 4.5% and 12.1%, respectively. Similar to the four-year pattern, computer science majors increased by 7.2%.
The National Student Clearinghouse Research Center is the research arm of the National Student Clearinghouse. It collaborates with higher education institutions, states, school districts, high schools, and educational organizations as part of a national effort to better inform education leaders and policymakers.
The Research Center currently collects data from more than 3,600 postsecondary institutions, representing 97% of the nation’s postsecondary enrollments in degree-granting institutions, as of fall 2019.
The CTEE Report Series provides national enrollment estimates by institutional sector, enrollment intensity, age group, gender, major field, and state. The new report replaces previously published fall, 2022 enrollment estimates and is based on reports from almost all of NSCRC’s participating institutions. It includes expanded data compared to prior versions, with more information about race and ethnicity, institutional selectivity and enrollment in baccalaureate programs offered at two-year institutions.