Report: U.S. Colleges Lost 400,000 Students this Fall Because of Coronavirus

The Associated Press
The Associated Press

A National Student Clearinghouse Research Center report on fall enrollment in U.S. colleges reveals that the higher education sector lost 400,000 students this fall because of the coronavirus — twice the rate in 2019.

Inside Higher Ed detailed the report:

Community college enrollment saw the sharpest declines, and freshman enrollment is down 13.1 percent, about steady with the previous report. Community college enrollment is down 10.1 percent, up from the 9.5 percent decline in the last report. Public colleges over all lost 4 percent of their enrollment, a concerning fact given public institutions enroll seven out of 10 students.

Continuing students are doing well, though, said Doug Shapiro, executive director of the research center.

“Almost all students who enrolled in the spring stayed enrolled this fall,” except those who graduated, Shaprio said during a webinar held to discuss the report.

“Some of this is driven by a decline in international students, but it’s clear that a substantial number of Americans who would have normally attended college stayed away this fall,” Robert Kelchen, an associate professor of higher education at Seton Hall University, said. “The question then becomes whether they enroll after the pandemic ends or whether they decide not to go to college.”

He called the report “astonishing.”

“Those seeing the sharpest of these striking declines in enrollment are community colleges — the institutions that often serve the largest share of students of color and students from low-income backgrounds,” Michelle Asha Cooper, president of the Institute for Higher Education Policy, said in a statement. “While many students may enroll or re-enroll at a later time, we know that delays in enrollment and needing to stop out from higher education can decrease the odds that a student will ultimately earn a degree or credential.”

“We also know that students who need to delay earning a degree or credential must also delay the earnings premium and workforce outcomes associated with educational attainment, both of which could help students and families recover from this crisis and cushion themselves against a future recession,” Cooper said.

Another Clearinghouse report shows the number of high school graduates going directly to college decreased by 22 percent this fall, and those graduates were mostly low-income and urban students.

“This, coupled with the decline in community college enrollment, paints the bleak picture that more vulnerable students are simply not going to college,” Inside Higher Ed reported.

“That has serious implications for this generation of students, and also for our national economy,” Shapiro said.

Graduate enrollment rates tell a more positive story — it is up 3.6 percent in the fall. Four-year, for-profit college enrollment also increased by 5.3 percent and was the only sector to have enrollment grow at both the undergraduate and graduate levels.

Enrollment in the coronavirus era also showed male student enrollment fell by 5 percent compared to a .07 decrease in 2019.

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