Undergraduate college enrollment fell again this spring, down nearly 5% from a year ago. That means 727,000 fewer students, according to new data from the National Student Clearinghouse. NPR reports: “That’s really dramatic,” says Doug Shapiro, who leads the clearinghouse’s research center. Fall enrollment numbers had indicated things were bad, with a 3.6% undergraduate decline compared with a year earlier, but experts were waiting to see if those students who held off in the fall would enroll in the spring. That didn’t appear to happen. “Despite all kinds of hopes and expectations that things would get better, they’ve only gotten worse in the spring,” Shapiro says. “It’s really the end of a truly frightening year for higher education. There will be no easy fixes or quick bounce backs.”
Overall enrollment in undergraduate and graduate programs has been trending downward since around 2012, and that was true again this spring, which saw a 3.5% decline — seven times worse than the drop from spring 2019 to spring 2020. The National Student Clearinghouse attributed that decline entirely to undergraduates across all sectors, including for-profit colleges. Community colleges, which often enroll more low-income students and students of color, remained hardest hit by far, making up more than 65% of the total undergraduate enrollment losses this spring. On average, U.S. community colleges saw an enrollment drop of 9.5%, which translates to 476,000 fewer students. […] Based on her conversations with students, [Heidi Aldes, dean of enrollment management at Minneapolis College, a community college in Minnesota] attributes the enrollment decline to a number of factors, including being online, the “pandemic paralysis” community members felt when COVID-19 first hit, and the financial situations families found themselves in.