Declining college enrollment has continued, with experts suggesting that people are questioning the value of a postsecondary education.
Total college enrollment — both undergraduate and graduate — fell this spring to 16.2 million students, marking a one-year decline of 4.1%, or 685,000 students, the National Student Clearinghouse Research Center (NSCRC) announced on Thursday.
That followed a 3.5% drop last spring, meaning postsecondary institutions have lost nearly 1.3 million students since spring 2020.
Most of this spring's decline was accounted for by undergraduate enrollment, which dropped 4.7%, or more than 662,000 students, compared to spring 2021.
The total number of undergraduates now is 9.4%, or nearly 1.4 million students smaller than before the pandemic.
"I thought we would start to see some of the declines begin to shrink a bit this term," NSCRC Executive Director Dr. Doug Shapiro said during a conference call with reporters, The New York Times reported.
"I am surprised that it seems to be getting worse."
Even before COVID-19, though, college enrollment had been dropping nationally.
Enrollment at public institutions this spring was down 5% — losing 604,000 students from a year ago — and community colleges (351,000) accounted for more than half of these losses.
Community colleges have lost more than 827,000 students since the start of the pandemic.
Private four-year institutions saw their enrollment drop 1.7%, and private for-profit colleges had a 0.2% decline.
Although nearly 340,000 students started college for the first time this spring — an increase of 4.2% from last year — the increase was not enough to return community college freshman enrollment to pre-pandemic levels.
"That suggests it's more than just the pandemic to me; it's more than just low-income communities that are primarily served by community colleges," Shapiro said, the Times reported.
"It suggests that there's a broader question about the value of college and particularly concerns about student debt and paying for college and potential labor market returns.
"It really remains to be seen whether this will translate into a larger freshman recovery in the fall."
Another significant NSCRC statistic was that more than 462,000 (-4.6%) fewer women enrolled in college students this spring. That meant there has been a two-year total decline of 665,000 female enrollments.
NSCRC said Black freshman enrollment declined by 6.5%, or 2,600 students.
Earlier in the week, the Tennessee Higher Education Commission said the percentage of public high school graduates who immediately enrolled in college immediately had dropped from 63.8% in 2017 to 52.8% in 2021.
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