Enrollment stabilizing, colleges welcome more first-year students, report finds

Fall 2022 undergraduate enrollment was down just 0.6% compared to Fall 2021, an indication that it has begun to stabilize after several years of steep enrollment losses, according to a recent update from the National Student Clearinghouse Research Center. The Clearinghouse report, which reflects data from 97% of all U.S. postsecondary institutions, offered some signs of hope that enrollment might recover, according to Diverse Issues in Higher Education.

First-year enrollment, though down 150,000 students compared to Fall 2019, grew 4.3% (+97,000 students) compared to last fall. First-year enrollment also rose across all institution types, with the largest growth in community college enrollment (+6.1%) and public four-year colleges (+3.9%) compared with last fall.

Related: College enrollment declines continue this fall, but at a slower rate >

Signs of hope and room for improvement

The largest increase in first-year students was among Latine students (+7.9%), followed by Asian students (+7.4%) , and Native American students (+6.9%). The number of Black first-year students remained stable year-over-year, while the number of white first-year students fell compared to the previous year.

“It’s very encouraging to start seeing signs of a recovery here, even though there’s still a long way to go before freshmen classes return to their 2019 levels,” said Doug Shapiro, the research center’s executive director, according to Higher Ed Dive.

Related: International student enrollments rebounding after years of declines, survey reports >

Experts tell Inside Higher Ed that the rise in first-year student enrollment may be a result of the reduction in online course offerings, leading more students to opt for a traditional college experience. More targeted college recruitment techniques adopted since the pandemic may also explain the increase in first-year students.

Although first-year enrollment has grown, graduate enrollment fell 1.2% after two years of consecutive growth, and overall postsecondary enrollment is down 1.23 million undergraduates and 1.11 million total students compared to pre-pandemic Fall 2019 numbers.

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