U.S. College Enrollment Drop Slowing – But Still Far Below Pre-Pandemic Levels

College enrollment is down slightly for Spring 2023.

New data from the National Student Clearinghouse Research Center (NSCRC) shows that overall college enrollment fell about .5% in spring 2023 vs. spring 2022, a loss of about 93,000 students in total.


While undergraduate enrollment for the spring term is down only about 0.2% (25,000 fewer students), experts say that overall enrollment is still lagging far behind pre-pandemic levels.

“Despite encouraging signs of recovery among younger students at community colleges, overall undergraduate enrollment is still well below pre-pandemic levels, especially among degree-seeking students,” Doug Shapiro, executive director of the National Student Clearinghouse Research Center says. “With the pandemic now behind us, a new set of factors appears to be preventing students from returning to campuses. And these new factors are having a stronger effect on students who are seeking bachelor’s degrees than on associate-seekers.”

The latest data shows that community college enrollment has actually increased by 0.5% (22,000 more students) compared to spring 2022—an increase largely attributed to the growing number of younger students, primarily dual-enrolled high school students and freshmen. According to enrollment data, dual-enrolled high school/community college students increased by 8% this year, or 49,000 more students.


There are a number of reasons why experts say college enrollment has declined in recent years. The high cost of a college degree is one of the biggest.

Americans today are now more skeptical than ever about the pay off a college degree. In fact, fewer than one in three adults now say the degree is worth the cost, according to a survey by the Strada Education Network.

Since 2000, the U.S. has fallen from 2nd to 16th place for the proportion of 25-to-34-year-olds with bachelor’s degrees. And while the enrollment drop is slowing, some say there’s still a long road ahead.

“Even if in a best-case scenario, we address this and turn it around and enrollment is back up — and that’s a giant if — just the last two years, it’s more than a million students who are not going on to graduate,” Portia Cook, an advisor at the National College Attainment Network, says.

Sources: Forbes, National Student Clearinghouse Research Center, The Hechinger Report

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