Fresh student enrollment data suggests “encouraging” recovery

As colleges continue treading past pandemic lows, new data suggests a light at the end of the tunnel for undergraduate enrollment, as graduate enrollment steadies.

Undergraduate enrollment across all undergraduate sectors is beginning to steady, remedying the sharper declines colleges have experienced before the pandemic, according to data from the National Student Clearinghouse Research Center. The data represents the most recent figures from fall 2022 enrollment.

It may seem strange to be celebrating a decline in undergraduate enrollment, but the 0.6% slip is relatively minute. This percentage represents a difference of about 94,000 students from the over 15 million that had applied in Fall 2021 and 2022, which is a huge gain over the declines seen the years prior, 3.7% in 2020 and 3.5% in 2021.

When focusing specifically on undergraduate freshman, the future is even brighter. They saw a 4.3% increase in enrollment, with Asian and Latinx students both clocking a 7.4% increase. Still, these numbers are below pre-pandemic levels, but Doug Shapiro, executive director at the National Student Clearinghouse Research Center, is optimistic.

“It is encouraging to start seeing signs of a recovery in the numbers of new freshmen,” said Shapiro. “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.”

While enrollment across all undergraduate sectors are collectively showing signs of plateau, public 4-year schools had the second-highest rate of decline at 1.4 percent. This figure is slightly better than what was recorded in 2021, but it is still worse than the only 0.3% decline that was recorded entering Fall 2020. Among the undergraduate sector, private for-profit 4-year programs saw the best uptick at 5 percent.

Business remained the highest-enrolled major at 1.5 million students and was the only one out of the top 5 to increase its enrollment compared to 2021. Liberal arts and sciences, which was the third most enrolled major, saw a sharp 4.8% decline in enrollment, the most out of the top 5 majors. Computer and information sciences, in sixth place, saw an impressive 10.4% bump in students enrolled.

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Enrollment in graduate programs seems to be steadying, too, after experiencing increases in enrollment for the past four years, the largest jump happening in fall 2021 at 3.4%. Graduate enrollment fell 0.3% this year. Its 15 million enrolled graduate students is still higher than pre-pandemic 2017, which had nearly 14 million students enrolled.

Three out of five of the most popular graduate programs saw declines. Specifically, health professions programs dropped 1.6% or about 12,000 students. This is the first drop recorded for the program since the fall of 2017. Business programs are back to recording numbers below pre-pandemic levels as they saw a 5.3% decrease in enrollment, or about 26,000 students. These meek numbers follow after a swift increase at 4.5% during the fall of 2020, which was smack-dab in the middle of the pandemic.

Regardless of degree levels, health science programs have declined.

Southern and Western schools represent the only regions to experience an increase in enrollment at 0.2% and 0.4%, respectively. The Midwest and Northeast both saw declines at 1.1% and 0.6%, respectively.

Alcino Donadel
Alcino Donadel
Alcino Donadel is a UB staff writer and Florida Gator alumnus. A graduate in journalism and communications, his beats have ranged from Gainesville's city development, music scene, and regional little league sports divisions. He has triple citizenship from the U.S., Ecuador, and Brazil.

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