Current Term Enrollment Estimates
January 13, 2022
Higher education enrollment fell a further 2.7 percent in the fall of 2021 following a 2.5 percent drop in the preceding fall. Continued enrollment losses in the pandemic represent a total two-year decline of 5.1 percent or 938,000 students since fall 2019.
Undergraduate enrollment alone fell by 3.1 percent or 465,300 students over last year. Every institution sector saw undergraduate enrollment drops, with the largest numerical drops at public four-year institutions (251,400 students or -3.8%) and the steepest percentage decline at private for-profit four-year colleges (-11.1% or 65,500 students). Community colleges saw smaller enrollment drops (-3.4% or 161,800 students) than in the previous fall, but the number of associate degree-seeking students enrolled at four-year institutions fell much more steeply compared to the previous year (-11.0% at public four-year, -6.2% at private nonprofit four-year, and -11.9% at private for-profit four-year institutions).
Freshman enrollment stabilized following a precipitous decline in fall 2020, up about 0.4% or 8,100 students, primarily driven by freshmen number increases in private nonprofit four-year colleges. However, far from recovering from last year’s drop, the nation’s fall 2021 freshman class was 9.2 percent smaller (or 213,400 fewer students) compared to pre-pandemic levels in fall 2019.
Percent Change in Total Enrollment from Previous Year by Institutional Sector: 2017 to 2021
Difference from the COVID-19 Stay Informed report series
As with the previous editions, the Fall 2021 CTEE provides estimated postsecondary enrollment numbers based on the Clearinghouse universe of institutions, after accounting for data coverage rates. This differs from the Stay Informed report series that is designed to quantify the immediate effects of COVID-19 by analyzing year-over-year percentage change in unadjusted, preliminary data for fixed panels of institutions that reported data in the same month each year from fall 2019 to fall 2021. The estimated enrollment numbers presented in the CTEE report may differ from the results of the Stay Informed reports due to the difference in methodology and institution coverage.
This fall, larger differences appeared between the year-over-year percentage changes reported in the two series compared to the year before. These variances are primarily due to a larger number of institutions that submitted data eligible for the CTEE report — 33 percent more institutions than the panel of institutions used in the Stay Informed report released in Nov 2021. Some of the added institutions had atypical enrollment changes from 2020 to 2021.