First-Year College Enrollment Continues To Nosedive During Pandemic

As the pandemic surges on, college enrollment continues to plummet significantly. New data from the National Student Clearinghouse suggests that undergraduate enrollment has dipped 3.6% from the fall of 2019. The dip is twice what it was last year and equates to a loss of nearly 600,000 students. Within institutions of higher learning, community colleges have been hit the hardest. Enrollment at community colleges has dropped by 10% and resulted in a loss of more than 500,000 students.

"To see this level of decline all at once is so sudden and so dramatic," Doug Shapiro of the National Student Clearinghouse.

"It's completely unprecedented."

The hardest-hit group of students has been incoming freshmen. College enrollment among recent high school graduates is down by more than 21%. College enrollment among graduates of affluent high schools is down by 16%. Furthermore, college enrollment among graduates of high-poverty high schools is down by more than 30%.

"That's a lot of individuals whose lives are on hold, whose career and educational aspirations are suspended," Shapiro said.

"You can almost think of this as an entire generation that will enter adulthood with lower education, lower skills, less employability, ultimately lower productivity."

While college enrollment has declined more rapidly in the pandemic, it has been decreasing for nearly a decade. From 2011 to 2019, nationwide college enrollment dropped by 11%. As the cost of college continues to rise, fewer and fewer people will pursue college degrees in the next generation.

"There is a much larger implication here for the country," Angel Pérez of the National Association for College Admission Counseling.

"The fact is if we lose an entire generation of young people in the pipeline to college, that will have an impact on our tax base. It will have an impact on an educated citizenry."

Photo Credit: Getty Images

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