Pennsylvania Among Top 5 States with Declining College Enrollment

This spring’s overall college enrollment fell to 16.9 million students from 17.5 million, marking a one-year decline of 3.5% or 603,000 students, according to a new report by the National Student Clearinghouse Research Center. This is seven times worse than the decline a year earlier, and the largest decline in year-over-year percent change and student headcount since spring 2011, which is the first year the Research Center published enrollment data. The second steepest enrollment decline was recorded in Fall 2020.

In Pennsylvania, college enrollment was down by 22,738 or 3.8%

Undergraduate students accounted for the entire decline, with a 4.9% drop or 727,000 students. In contrast, graduate enrollment jumped by 4.6 percent, adding more than 124,000 students. Every institution sector saw an undergraduate enrollment drop this spring, including for-profit four-year colleges which had shown the only positive numbers in the fall. Community colleges remain hardest hit by far, however, declining 9.5% or 476,000 fewer students. More than 65% of the total undergraduate enrollment losses this spring occurred in the community college sector.

“The final estimates for spring enrollment confirm the pandemic’s severe impact on students and colleges this year,” said Doug Shapiro, Executive Director, National Student Clearinghouse Research Center. “How long that impact lasts will depend on how many of the missing students, particularly at community colleges, will be able to make their way back to school for the coming fall.”

California led the nation in enrollment loss by headcount with a decrease of nearly 123,000 students. New Mexico declined the most by percentage by dropping 11.4%. Michigan placed in the top five states for both declining enrollment (-29,189) and percentage drop (-6.4%). Meanwhile, only seven states increased enrollments, with New Hampshire rising 10.8% or 18,153 students. Newly added this year, state-level spring enrollments are broken out by institution sector. See tables 8a and 8b in the report.

Traditional college-age students, 18 to 24, declined 5% or more than 524,000 students, including a steep loss of 13.2% or more than 365,000 students at community colleges. Adult students, 25 or older, show a 1.2% decline or nearly 75,000 students.

Enrollment among male students continued to fall greater than female students. Men declined by 5.5% or 400,000 students and women dropped 2% or 203,000 students compared with last spring.

Business, Healthcare, and Liberal Arts continue to be the most common undergraduate majors for both four-year and two-year college students. For year-over-year percent change, Computer Sciences and Psychology showed the largest enrollment growth at four-year colleges, +3% and +4.8%, respectively.

Among two-year college major fields with more than 100,000 students, enrollment fell most in Visual & Performing Arts (-18.1%); Security & Protective Services (-16.7%); Multi/Interdisciplinary Studies (-14.1%); and Liberal Arts & General Studies (-13.8%). Psychology and Legal Professions were the only growing fields for two-year college students this spring, +0.8% and +4.8%, respectively.

Top 5 States with Largest One-Year Decreases by Enrollment Numbers:

California                           -122,752 or -5.3%

New York                           -52,041 or -5.2%

Michigan                            -29,189 or -6.4%

Illinois                                -28,422 or -5.0%

Pennsylvania                     -22,738 or -3.8%