For the first time since pandemic, college enrollment ticks up

Colleges are seeing their undergraduate enrollment numbers go up for the first time since the COVID-19 pandemic hit, according to new data from the National Student Clearinghouse Research Center.

Three years later, undergraduate enrollment has gone up 2.1 percent this fall compared to 2022, and community colleges saw an increase of 4.4 percent.

The recovery has come from unexpected areas, however, as freshman enrollment actually fell 3.6 percent compared to in fall 2022.

“It’s hard to know what’s really driving this divergence between freshmen and continuing students, but it’s certainly counterintuitive,” Doug Shapiro, the National Student Clearinghouse Research Center’s executive director, told The Washington Post. “It’s possible that some of this can be accounted for by … students staying in longer because they need more time to complete their degree.”

Gains were seen among undergraduate certificate programs, which jumped 9.9 percent, and among minority students, whereas white students saw enrollment numbers decline.

College enrollment increased at varying institutions, including historically Black colleges and universities at 6.1 percent and online institutions at 10.2 percent.

The research found health care programs and majors are also starting to see an increase in enrollment again after declining during the pandemic.

The data was collected from 54.5 percent of institutions that reported their fall 2023 enrollment numbers as of Sept. 28, the group said, representing more than 9 million students.

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