Enrollment at community colleges is beginning to grow this spring, with a 2.1 percent increase over last spring, according to the National Student Clearinghouse Research Center. Stay Informed with the Latest Enrollment Information, the first-look spring 2023 enrollment report found that the trend is due to an accelerated increase in dual enrollees and spring freshmen. Freshmen increased across all institution types, with most attending a community college (58.8 percent).
“It’s encouraging to see this second straight year of growth in spring freshmen and dual-enrolled high school students,” said Doug Shapiro, executive director of the National Student Clearinghouse Research Center. “However, community colleges still face significant declines in adult learners, who have been opting out of college in larger numbers since the start of the pandemic.”
Undergraduate enrollment remained steady this spring (+0.2 percent) following two straight years of steep pandemic-related losses. Only the public four-year sector continued to experience undergraduate enrollment declines (-0.9 percent). Total enrollment, including undergraduates and graduates, has remained unchanged since last spring.
Key enrollment highlights include:
Certificate program enrollment increased at both the undergraduate and graduate levels, continuing pre-pandemic trends. Associate degree-seeking students increased slightly (+0.3 percent) while bachelor’s seeking students continued to slide (-0.6 percent).
“Students continued to opt for shorter-term programs,” Shapiro said. “We saw larger increases for certificates,” he added, noting that associate degree-seeking students increased less than 1 percent and bachelor’s degree-seeking students dropped 0.6 percent.
Undergraduate enrollment at rural and town campuses declined by nearly seven times the rate of urban settings for all four-year institutions (-2.7 percent for town/rural; -0.4 percent for urban). Conversely, community college enrollment grew across all campus settings.
Enrollment grew only among younger undergraduate students, while older age groups (21 or above) continued a downward trend, extending multi-year losses in adult enrollment.
Undergraduate men, who were hit harder at the beginning of the pandemic, saw slight growth in their enrollment (0.7 percent), whereas enrollment among women continued to decline (-0.9 percent).
Among undergraduate students, only Latinx students had enrollment gains this spring (+0.9 percent), while all other major race and ethnicity groups showed slowing declines or stabilization.
Undergraduate enrollment in the health field continues to decline across all credential levels. Among graduate students, health field enrollment grew only at the certificate and doctoral levels.
“Community colleges have been the hardest-hit sector since the start of the pandemic,” Shapiro said. “They’re currently still down by roughly 14 percent from pre-pandemic levels–still a long way to go, but clearly a nice sign of improvement in community colleges this term.”
Results are preliminary as of February 23, 2023, capturing 8.5 million spring enrollments in a panel representing 54 percent of the Clearinghouse universe of institutions. Results are subject to change as more data are reported for the spring of 2023, and Shapiro said complete data should be available in May 2023.
The National Student Clearinghouse Research Center is the research arm of the National Student Clearinghouse. The Research Center collaborates with higher education institutions, states, school districts, high schools, and educational organizations as part of a national effort to better inform education leaders and policymakers.
This press release originally appeared online.