Spring enrollment may be big relief for struggling colleges

Dual enrollment made up the lion's share of undergraduate growth, accounting for over a quarter (28.1%) of its increase.

Spring sowed enrollment growth across various credential types, sectors and student demographics, according to the latest estimates from the National Student Clearinghouse Research Center. It marks the first year-over-year increase in spring enrollment since the pandemic and the second consecutive semester of gains.

Overall enrollment grew by 2.5%, and all but six states saw increases with Georgia leading the pack at 6.1%.

“Undergraduate enrollments are picking up steam,” said Doug Shapiro, executive director of the Clearinghouse. “With year-over-year growth this spring at twice the rate of fall 2023, prospects may be looking up for struggling colleges.”

This report marks the first time that public and private nonprofit four-year institutions experienced positive growth since the pandemic began midway through spring 2020. Undergraduate four-year institutions have essentially made up all of their losses since 2020, with enrollment at public and privates 0.7% and 1% below what they were, respectively.

Interest in a bachelor’s degree grew by 2.3%, or by 181,000 students, which is higher than last fall’s rates. Last semester’s anemic numbers for freshmen reversed, rising by 3.9% across all sectors this spring. Freshmen enrolling at public two-year colleges and PABs (primarily associate granting baccalaureate institutions) grew the most at 6.2% and 11%, respectively.

Dual enrollment accounted for the lion’s share of undergraduate growth, escalating another 10% following the two preceding spring’s positive numbers. This segment accounted for over a quarter (28.1%) of undergraduate enrollment increase. Undergraduate certificates also continue to be a reliable source of student interest, increasing by 3.6%.

Graduate enrollment rose across all sectors by 3%.

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While computer and information sciences continue an impressive streak of year-over-year growth (9.9%), undergraduate enrollment in health professions grew for the first time in at least four years.

Adult learners accounted for another big turnaround. The number of students aged 21 and older grew for the first time since 2020. The only sector in which their enrollment fell off was at the public four-year level.

But there are some words of caution: Higher ed in general is still down by nearly 800,000 students since the pandemic began. Troubles with this year’s FAFSA rollout might prove another pothole.

“It’s bound to affect fall enrollment,” said Shapiro in a media briefing. “We just don’t know by how much.”

Alcino Donadel
Alcino Donadel
Alcino Donadel is a UB staff writer and first-generation journalism graduate from the University of Florida. 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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