Casualty of Covid-19…Undergraduate Enrollment Has Dropped By Nearly 8% In Two Years

Cynthia Farmer /
Cynthia Farmer /

One of the casualties of the COVID-19 chaos and the lockdown-induced recession is the number of young people attending college across the country. Undergraduate enrollment in the United States is declining since the pandemic hit our land.

There is a new report from the National Student Clearinghouse Research Center that indicates there are 7.8% fewer students now participating in undergraduate programs. It is the public two-year schools and private for-profit four-year schools that are seeing the most significant declines.

It was about two months into the second fall semester since the pandemic hit that postsecondary enrollment hit 2.6 percent below the level of the year before. That means that there was a 5.8 percent drop since 2019. Undergraduate enrollment fell 3.5 percent from last fall or 7.8 percent compared to the fall of 2019.

On the other hand, graduate school enrollment grew 2.1 percent, which was maintaining an upward trend from the previous fall. That means that there was a total of 4.9 percent growth since 2019.

The decline in undergraduate enrollment continued to decline across all sectors of the country. The most significant drops were in the private for-profit four-year and public two-year institutions. The number of undergraduate female students fell slightly more than males, -4.1% females as compared to and -3.4% males.

The ongoing enrollment losses among traditional college-age students (18-24) is a concern for many. It is -2.6% for 18-20-year-olds and -3.3% for 21-24-year-olds.

If you look at the fall of 2019 to the fall of 2021, overall enrollment for males dropped by 10.2%, while enrollment for females fell by 6.8%. And male enrollment in public two-year schools dropped by nearly 19% during the same time period.

Credential type, associate degree, and undergraduate certificate programs have seen enrollment declines of 15.1%  and 8.2%, respectively. The undergraduate programs are 3.2% smaller, but the master’s and doctoral programs are 5.8% and 4.9% larger.

The losses have primarily been concentrated in less selective academic institutions, though there are some highly selective four-year programs that have seen modest growth since 2019. But almost across the board, enrollment for men has diminished in all types of schools with the exception of private nonprofit four-year institutions.

There was a report from CNBC that many small schools like Bloomfield College in New Jersey, Judson College in Alabama, Becker College in Massachusetts, and Concordia College in New York are planning to shut their doors. At this same time, the Pennsylvania State System of Higher Education is merging six universities into two because of declining revenue.

CNBC also noted that elite universities are experiencing a large number of applications and net revenue gains. Schools like Harvard, Yale, Stanford, and Princeton are increasing their financial aid offerings.

Sam Pollack, a partner with the National Education Policy Center, said, “They are often made to be the villains, but the vast majority of these institutions are working very hard to deploy those funds to the benefit of students. If the highly selective schools are able to subsidize that cost, it makes it even more compelling and that has broad implications for the higher education landscape.”

Along with these changes, some universities are failing to protect free expression for their students. There is now a group of former university administrators, professors, authors, and entrepreneurs who are launching a new institution called the University of Austin.

Joe Lonsdale, the co-founder, and venture capitalist said in an op-ed for the New York Post, “In the liberal university, open inquiry and debate about the world were prized as values in their own right. Our society recognized this by endowing universities with public money, trust, and power. In modern universities, these values have been lost, as has the legitimacy they impart. Robust debate on important topics is increasingly rare, and uniformity of viewpoint is increasingly demanded. Universities have been captured by new ideologies of intolerance that order subservience and quash those who think differently.”

So, basically, students aren’t enrolling in colleges and universities as often as they had in the past. Whether that’s because of COVID or because of not being able to speak out against liberal issues is still up in the air. Either way, it doesn’t paint a great picture of our future if we can’t get more college-educated people out of this generation…