A Close Look at Higher Education Enrollment in Fall 2023

November 20, 2023

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Title: National Student Clearinghouse Research Center’s Regular Updates on Higher Education Enrollment

Source: National Student Clearinghouse

The National Student Clearinghouse (NSC) continues to provide up-to-date enrollment trends to highlight disparities in pandemic recovery across differing student and institutional characteristics. The NSC’s latest report encapsulates comprehensive data concerning 9.6 million students, both undergraduate and graduate, reported by approximately 1,500 academic institutions.

The data show that this fall, enrollment increased across higher education:

  • Undergraduate enrollment increased for the first time since the pandemic began, rising by 2.1 percent compared to 2022 and exceeding 2021 enrollment by 1.2 percent.
  • Graduate enrollment has also seen a slight increase (0.7 percent), and graduate certificate programs have witnessed strong growth, up by 5.7 percent since last year and by 9.9 percent since 2021. 
  • All major sectors of higher education experienced enrollment increases, with public two-year colleges leading the way with a significant gain of 4.4 percent, accounting for more than half of the overall growth in undergraduate enrollment.

Students are increasingly favoring shorter-term certificate programs. Enrollment in undergraduate certificate programs rose by 9.9 percent over last year, compared to 3.6 percent for associate degrees and 0.9 percent for bachelor’s degrees.

Despite overall undergraduate enrollment growth, freshman enrollment declined:

  • Freshman enrollment decreased by 3.6 percent, reversing most of the gains (4.6 percent) seen in the fall of 2022, and is now just 0.8 percent higher than fall 2021 enrollment.
  • The majority of the decline in freshman enrollment occurred in bachelor’s programs at public and private nonprofit four-year institutions (-6.9 percent and -4.7 percent, respectively).
  • Freshman losses at four-year institutions were smaller at less selective schools (-0.9 percent) compared to competitive (-5.5 percent), very competitive (-7.3 percent), and highly selective (-5.9 percent) colleges.

Most racial and ethnic groups saw an increase in college enrollment:

  • Black, Latino, and Asian students were the primary drivers of growth in both undergraduate and graduate enrollment this fall. Black enrollment grew by 2.1 percent among undergraduate and graduate students, Latino enrollment rose by 4.2 percent among undergraduates and by 3 percent among graduates, and Asian enrollment increased by 4 percent among undergraduates and by 6 percent among graduates.
  • White student enrollment continued to decline, showing a 0.9 percent drop at the undergraduate level and a 1.9 percent decrease at the graduate level, with the most significant decline (9.4 percent) occurring among freshmen.

Undergraduates aged 18-20 and 30 or older showed 3 percent growth this fall. Notably, those under 18 (dual enrolled high school students), continued to lead the way with an 8.8 percent surge.

Among traditional-aged undergraduate students, enrollment increased across all neighborhood income levels, with students from the lowest-income areas gaining 3.6 percent and those from the highest-income areas gaining 1.4 percent this year.

Female undergraduate enrollment saw an uptick (1.2 percent) this fall, although it increased less than male enrollment did (2.2 percent). This continues the trend of the pandemic’s greater impact on women, initially observed in fall 2021.

There have been noteworthy shifts in fields of study:

  • Enrollment in computer and information sciences programs saw substantial growth for both bachelor’s and master’s degrees, with increases of 10.7 percent and 13.7 percent, respectively. The popularity of trade-related majors is evident in double-digit enrollment increases for undergraduate certificates in mechanic and repair technologies, construction, and precision production.
  • However, the decline in liberal arts and humanities persisted, dropping by 2.2 percent among those pursuing bachelor’s degrees.
  • Enrollment in healthcare programs is showing signs of recovery after pandemic-related declines, particularly among those pursuing undergraduate certificates and associate degrees, with increases of 5.7 percent and 4.4 percent, respectively.

Click here to read the report.

—Nguyen DH Nguyen

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