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Colleges saw significant enrollment declines during pandemic: Hope on horizon for boost this fall

The latest news about enrollment for colleges across the country is not great- but that doesn’t mean there isn’t optimimsm about Fall 2021.

For the second semester in a row compared with year-earlier periods- there was a drop in enrollment at colleges overall. According to NerdWallet, the decline was 3.5% during the spring semester, which was up from the fall 2020 semester.

That bit of information surprised some- as colleges saw a 2.6% decline in the fall semester amid the pandemic. As vaccines rolled out at the start of 2021- many thought college enrollment would begin to recover.

However, it declined further.


“To see continued enrollment decline again into the spring has to give the entire education sector and everyone associated with it a lot of pause,” Bill DeBaun, director of data and evaluation at the National College Attainment Network said.

To make matters worse, enrollment at community colleges fell even more. It dropped 9.5% during the spring semester, compared to 10.1% decline in the fall semester.

“This is a big drop,” Mikyung Ryu, director of research publications at the National Student Clearinghouse Research Center told NerdWallet. “This is the largest one-year enrollment decline for community colleges … in a decade. It is a huge decline, and the magnitude of declines is so big, I think it will take community colleges years to recover from these losses, if it is possible at all.”

The biggest driver to seeing enrollment increase at four- and two-year institutions across the country is in-person learning. Experts say remote learning was a major deterent in last year’s numbers.



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