6 charts showing the state of college enrollment in spring 2021

by Joseph K. Clark

New data shows that the higher education sector didn’t get a reprieve from the enrollment losses that defined the fall term. Instead, the numbers from the National Student Clearinghouse Research Center found a few enduring trends.

National Student Clearinghouse Research Center Spring 2021 Enrollment Estimates

college enrollment

Public two-year schools again reported the steepest enrollment declines of all institution types this spring. In all, colleges reporting to the Clearinghouse brought in roughly 600,000 fewer students this spring compared to a year ago, a figure that includes graduates and undergraduates. That’s more than the 460,000-student decrease between the falls of 2019 and 2020.

National Student Clearinghouse Research Center Spring 2021 Enrollment Estimates

As with the fall, declines in undergraduate enrollment drove the sector’s overall downward trend. These losses were most significant at community colleges, though not all states experienced them equally. Connecticut, Louisiana, New Mexico, and Pennsylvania posted a decrease in public two-year enrollment over 15% from spring 2020, while Utah and Nebraska recorded small gains, the Clearinghouse found.

National Student Clearinghouse Research Center Spring 2021 Enrollment Estimates

Graduate programs again posted increased enrollment. Observers have said this could partly be because more of these programs were online before the pandemic than undergraduate programs. Analysts project graduate programs will continue to grow and be a significant factor in colleges’ revenue diversification strategy going forward.

National Student Clearinghouse Research Center Spring 2021 Enrollment Estimates

Students ages 18 to 24 enrolled at a lower rate this spring than they did a year ago, Clearinghouse data shows. Their older classmates were more likely to enroll, though they account for a smaller share of total enrollment than their younger classmates. Public two-year schools saw the most significant declines among younger students. Other recent data suggests the losses at community colleges were concentrated among low-income students and those from groups that have historically been underrepresented in higher education.

National Student Clearinghouse Research Center Spring 2021 Enrollment Estimates

The pandemic is exacerbating a trend in recent years of fewer men enrolling in postsecondary education. Experts say men may be deterred from pursuing college earlier in their education or think they have viable alternatives. One expert told The Hechinger Report recently that men may feel more compelled than women to work during the pandemic to support their families. Shorter-term credentials could be one option for this group, the publication noted, though the latest Clearinghouse data show the steepest declines at community colleges, which offer more such programs. (Men and women were the only gender categories included in the report.)

National Student Clearinghouse Research Center Final Look Spring 2021

Clearinghouse data on transfer enrollment this spring shows declines worsening from last spring, with one exception. More students moved from two-year to four-year colleges. However, the overall 10% year-over-year decline in the number of students changing schools is the steepest of any pandemic-era term. It outpaces the 6.5% total decrease in non-transfer enrollment.

Related Posts

Leave a Comment