Fall 2020 College Enrollment Drops Significantly for 1st-Year Students

The number of 2020 high school graduates who enrolled in college for Fall 2020 was down by nearly 22%.

Hundreds of thousands of students have put off going to college this year, according to new data from the National Student Clearinghouse. Undergraduate enrollment decreased 3.6% this year compared to 2019. That’s more than 560,200 students who have decided to forego attending an institution of higher education.

The public two-year sector suffered the most from enrollment decline this fall. Two-year public institutions lost more than 544,200 students over last year… a 10.1% drop. Private nonprofit four-year institutions also saw slight declines (more than 3,400 students, or a 0.1% decrease).

However, public four-year institutions’ enrollment increased 0.2% (an additional 14,300 students) from Fall 2019. Private for-profit four-year institutions grew by 5.3%.

First-time student enrollment declined 13.1% (more than 327,500 students) compared to Fall 2019, with public two-year institutions experiencing a 21% decrease (more than 207,200 students). The drop in first-time two-year public institution enrollment is nearly 20 times greater than the prior year’s decline.

The number of 2020 high school graduates who enrolled in college for Fall 2020 was down by 21.7%, and for graduates at high-poverty high schools there was a 32.6% decline, reports NPR. That’s nearly twice the rate of decline of graduates from low poverty schools (16.4%).

Private nonprofit four-year colleges experienced a 10.5% decrease (more than 45,500 students), and public four-year institutions saw an 8.1% decrease (more than 81,600 students).

“While private for-profit institutions showed an increase in first time enrollment (9.5%), the added enrollment counts are small (3,178 students),” the report said.

Doug Shapiro, who leads the research center at the National Student Clearinghouse, told NPR the coronavirus pandemic is largely to blame for the decline in enrollment at institutions of higher education. However, U.S. college enrollment has been declining for about a decade. From 2011 to 2019, enrollment dropped 11%.

About the Author

Robin Hattersley Gray
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Robin has been covering the security and campus law enforcement industries since 1998 and is a specialist in school, university and hospital security, public safety and emergency management, as well as emerging technologies and systems integration. She joined CS in 2005 and has authored award-winning editorial on campus law enforcement and security funding, officer recruitment and retention, access control, IP video, network integration, event management, crime trends, the Clery Act, Title IX compliance, sexual assault, dating abuse, emergency communications, incident management software and more. Robin has been featured on national and local media outlets and was formerly associate editor for the trade publication Security Sales & Integration. She obtained her undergraduate degree in history from California State University, Long Beach.

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