Report: Pandemic Higher Education Drop-Outs Total 938,000 Since 2019

NEW YORK, NEW YORK - AUGUST 25: Students at New York University (NYU) take a Covid-19 test outside of its business school on August 25, 2020 in New York City. All students arriving back to the campus are required to get tested for the virus upon arrival, students will then …
Spencer Platt/Getty Images

A report from the National Student Clearinghouse Research Center shows that hundreds of thousands of students have dropped out of higher education across the United States since the start of the coronavirus pandemic and ensuing lockdowns.

The Center’s Term Enrollment Estimates Fall 2021 report revealed enrollment in higher education continues to decline:

Higher education enrollment fell a further 2.7 percent in the fall of 2021 following a 2.5 percent drop in the preceding fall. Continued enrollment losses in the pandemic represent a total two-year decline of 5.1 percent or 938,000 students since fall 2019.

Undergraduate enrollment alone fell by 3.1 percent or 465,300 students over last year. Every institution sector saw undergraduate enrollment drops, with the largest numerical drops at public four-year institutions (251,400 students or -3.8 percent) and the steepest percentage decline at private for-profit four-year colleges (-11.1 percent or 65,500 students). Community colleges saw smaller enrollment drops (-3.4 percent or 161,800 students) than in the previous fall, but the number of associate degree-seeking students enrolled at four-year institutions fell much more steeply compared to the previous year (-11.0 percent at public four-year, -6.2 percent at private nonprofit four-year, and -11.9 percent at private for-profit four-year institutions).

Freshman enrollment stabilized following a precipitous decline in fall 2020, up about 0.4 percent or 8,100 students, primarily driven by freshmen number increases in private nonprofit four-year colleges. However, far from recovering from last year’s drop, the nation’s fall 2021 freshman class was 9.2 percent smaller (or 213,400 fewer students) compared to pre-pandemic levels in fall 2019.

Only four states did not see enrollment decreases — Arizona, Colorado, New Hampshire and South Carolina.

A state-by-state analysis reveals which states had the highest declines in enrollment in the fall of 2021, including Delaware 7.1 percent, Vermont 6.6 percent, Wyoming 6.1 percent, New Mexico 5.6 percent, New Jersey 5.4 percent, New York 5.2 percent, Maryland 5 percent, and Oregon 4.9 percent.

The report said enrollment fell sharply this fall in each of the five largest undergraduate majors at four-year colleges (Business, Health, Liberal Arts, Biology, and Engineering). Liberal Arts declined the most (-7.6 percent), while enrollment in Computer Sciences and Psychology (the 6th- and 7th- largest majors) grew by 1.3 percent and 2.5 percent, respectively. Among the largest two-year college majors, Homeland Security, Law Enforcement, Firefighting, and Related Protective Services declined the most (7.4 percent).

The data for the report comes from information provided by educational institutions.

Follow Penny Starr on Twitter


Please let us know if you're having issues with commenting.