When COVID first sent the US into a panic back in March, nobody knew how long it would last, what life in quarantine would be like, or when life would go back to normal. With only a few days’ notice, millions of college students packed their belongings and left for home. They had no clue when they were going to return to their beloved schools. Back in May, prior reports predicted a 15% drop in college enrollment due to COVID-19. That equals roughly three million students. Reasons for this potential loss included hesitation to take classes fully online, financial strains from job loss, and concerns about traveling to hotspots.
College Enrollment Still Strong
However, despite the fear from both students and colleges approaching the 2020-2021 school year, the undergraduate college population only fell 4% according to the National Student Clearinghouse Research Center. Enrollment at four-year public colleges only fell by 1.4% and private colleges only fell by 2%. Some public four-year universities saw an increase in the size of their student body. This semester Purdue University reported the largest student body in the school’s history — 46,114 students, including 35,122 undergraduates and 8,925 incoming students.
The biggest drop in enrollment understandably was by first year students. First year enrollment fell by 13.7% at public colleges and 11.8% at private colleges, respectively. Community colleges suffered the greatest loss with a 9.4% drop overall, and 22.7% by first year students. On the other hand, enrollment in graduate school actually rose by about 2.7%.
While COVID-19 has slowed the US down for the past eight months, it is incredibly fortunate that college enrollment and access to education has suffered far less damage than anticipated. As we progress through this pandemic, colleges will only learn how to better handle their students and campuses. Hopefully the spring semester can bring better news and an upward trend.