Last week, the National Student Clearinghouse (NSC) issued its First Look Fall 2022 Enrollment report. Once again, overall undergraduate enrollment declined, this fall by 1.1 percent since last year and 4.2 percent since fall 2020. Graduate enrollment declined by 1.0 percent as well.
The previously large declines in community college enrollments subsided with a minimal .4 percent decline over last fall. While the growth of dual-enrolled high school students at community colleges was up 11.5 percent, the traditional aged (18-20) students grew by 1.4 percent.
Demographically, 27 states lost undergraduate enrollment compared to last year. The largest declines were in Alaska, Michigan, Kansas, Missouri, and Nevada ranging from -4.3 percent to -5.2 percent. The three states with the largest enrollment growth were South Carolina, New Mexico, and New Hampshire ranging from +3.7 percent to +6.8 percent. New Hampshire’s enrollment growth is undoubtedly influenced by the online enrollment growth at Southern New Hampshire University.
The NSC First Look report provides enrollment data by degree type and major as well. At the undergraduate certificate level, business and management (+6.9%), mechanic and repair technologies (+3.3%), and precision production (+7.2%) gained in enrollments this fall while health professions (-3.4%) and liberal arts (-7.7%) declined the most. Computer and information science grew the most at the associates degree (+10.1%) and at the bachelor’s degree (+9.5%). Among the most popular associates’ degrees, health professions experienced the greatest decline in enrollment at -5.0 percent. At the bachelor’s degree level, the greatest decline in popular majors was health professions at -5.4%. At the master’s degree level, the strongest growth was in computer science (+21.4%) with the largest enrollment declines among business (-5.9%) and education (-6.1%) majors.
Among types of institutions, HBCU’s (Historically Black Colleges and Universities) experienced a 2.5 percent increase in enrollment driven by a 6.6% increase in freshmen enrollment this year. At primarily online universities (POI’s), undergraduate enrollment grew by 3.2 percent this fall. Notably, this was driven primarily by younger students (18-20) with a 23.4 percent increase in enrollment in that age group since fall 2020. Inside Higher Ed reported that the increase in online traditional aged students appeared to be a direct outcome of the pandemic.
It should be noted that the NSC First Look report reflects 62 percent of all institutions and 10.3 million students as of 9/29/2022. For some reason, only 48 percent of four-year for-profit institutions had submitted their enrollment numbers by this date. For comparative purposes, by the time the Fall 2020 final enrollment report was published by NSC, 97 percent of all institutions were included in the data. For comparison purposes, the First Look data was compared to a fixed group of institutions year-over-year to avoid data distortion. Primarily Online Institutions (POI’s) are those institutions with 90 percent or more of their enrollments in Fall 2020 that were online. There are 30 institutions classified as POI and 20 of them submitted data for this First Look report. Most of this group is classified as four-year for-profit.
Overall, the NSC report is not surprising. We’ve known for some time now that traditional enrollments are declining in the Northeast and Midwest and growing in the South and West. The increasing popularity of computer and information science degrees is not a surprise either. I was pleased to see that dual enrollment (high school and community college) was up year over year. I have been a fan of dual enrollment programs and believe that it is one of the few state-sponsored education options that can decrease the time to a degree as well as decrease the overall cost for a student.
I was surprised that enrollment in health professions certificates, associates’ and bachelor’s degrees declined. What does it say when we have a shortage in most health professions, and we cannot increase the enrollments at any of these three degree levels? It is only speculation on my part, but it could be that the outcomes (primarily test scores) for the pre-admission screening standards for these certificates and degrees declined due to the pandemic and is responsible for the enrollment declines.
By the time the final fall 2022 enrollment report is available, most colleges and universities will be well underway for their application and admissions processes for fall 2023. In the case of the POI’s, their flexible start schedules will likely enable them to enroll and start additional students throughout the spring, summer, and fall. Colleges and universities with declining enrollments need to roll out up their sleeves and find new ways to bring back enrollments and it’s not necessarily going to be by adding online courses and programs.