College Enrollment Continues to Drop During Pandemic, Community Colleges Hit Hardest

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Even with the wide availability of vaccines, college enrollment continued to decline throughout the second year of the COVID-19 pandemic, according to National Student Clearinghouse Research Center data.

“Our final look at fall 2021 enrollment shows undergraduates continuing to sit out in droves as colleges navigate yet another year of Covid-19,” said Doug Shapiro, executive director of the research center, in a news release.

The research center examines enrollment data from approximately 3,600 higher education institutions each year. Based on this data, the center found that from fall 2020 to fall 2021, total undergraduate enrollment dropped 3.1 percent. The overall enrollment decline since fall 2019 is 6.6 percent, or more than 1.2 million students.

The data also shows that although first-year enrollment increased by 0.4 percent from 2020, total first-year enrollment is still 9.2 percent lower than before the pandemic began in 2019.

Community colleges have fared even worse with a 13.2 percent decrease in enrollment since 2019, or more than 700,000 students. That data is particularly startling as it suggests that low-income students, who are more likely to enroll in community colleges, were forced to delay their education plans or drop out at a higher rate than other students.

“Without a dramatic re-engagement in their education, the potential loss to these students’ earnings and futures is significant, which will greatly impact the nation as a whole in years to come,” Shapiro said in the release.