Did You Know? Enrollment Drops for Undergraduates, Rises for Graduate Students

Since the onset of the pandemic, nationwide enrollment in both undergraduate and graduate fields has drastically shifted. The National Student Clearinghouse Research Center came out with a report on college enrollment in 2021. During the Spring 2021 term, undergraduate enrollment decreased by 4.9 percent, and graduate enrollment increased by 4.6 percent.

In Spring 2020, overall enrollment decreased by 0.5 percent from the year before. A year later, after COVID regulations and lockdowns, enrollment dropped by 3.5 percent from the year prior— a decrease of about 600,000 students. 

States were affected differently. For example, New Mexico had the largest enrollment drop in the country of 11.4 percent. New Hampshire had the largest increase of 10.8 percent. 

However, New Mexico had already been struggling with enrollment before the pandemic: in 2020, its enrollment dropped by 3.4 percent. Conversely, New Hampshire’s enrollment had already been increasing: its enrollment increased by 3.5 percent in 2020. Both states persisted in their respective dropping and increasing. 

The story is different for North Carolina. In 2020, North Carolina had a 0.9 percent increase in enrollment. But by 2021 it reversed course, with enrollment dropping by 3.2 percent (close to the national average).

All sectors of higher education were affected, but community college enrollment was hit the hardest. Overall community college enrollment dropped by 9.5 percent.The majority of the decline in enrollment came from students who were men between the ages of 18 to 24. While enrollment among women dropped by 6 percent, male enrollment dropped by 14.4 percent. 

Although the national undergraduate enrollment decreased, the report notes that graduate enrollment increased by 4.6 percent from last year— an increase of about 124,000 students. Public four-year institutions saw the greatest increase in graduate enrollment (5.6 percent), followed by private nonprofit four-year colleges (3.8 percent), and private for-profit four-year institutions (1.7 percent).

Natalia Mayorga is a psychology student at UNC-Chapel Hill and a Martin Center intern.