California college enrollment continues to drop

Colleges across the country and in California continue to lose undergraduate students, but the decline has slowed compared to the past two years, when the pandemic turned education on its head, a national report shows.

California saw student enrollments fall 1.1%, a slower decline than last fall when enrollment fell 5.9%, according to preliminary fall 2022 data released Thursday by the National Student Clearinghouse Research Center. Nationally, the rate of enrollment declines also slowed to 1.1%, a significant slowdown from fall 2021 when enrollment fell 3.1%.

“I certainly wouldn’t call this a recovery,” said Doug Shapiro, the research center’s executive director. “We’re seeing smaller dips, but when you’re in a deep hole, the fact that you’re digging just a little bit further isn’t really good news.”

For the first time since the COVID-19 pandemic, declines are more pronounced in four-year schools nationwide than in community colleges that have been benefited from double-digit increases in high school students double-enrolled in college-level classes. While highly selective colleges saw a slight increase in students, less selective colleges had larger losses, the report said.

“This semester, undergraduate enrollments are still declining. The rate of decline is slower than before, but after two consecutive years of historically large losses in undergraduate enrollment, it’s particularly worrying that numbers aren’t picking up after that point, particularly among freshmen,” Shapiro said.

The number of first-year students enrolled nationwide fell by 1.5%.

Data from 2022 shows that four-year institutions were hit the hardest, with private not-for-profit institutions down 3.1%, public institutions down 2.4%, and for-profit institutions down 0.9%.

Adult education centers offered a ray of hope.

The report finds that an 11.5% increase in dual enrollment in high school helped moderate the 0.4% drop in community college enrollment. Community colleges across the country saw a 1.4% increase in 18- to 20-year-old enrollments and a 0.9% increase in freshmen, which the report says is a sign that their numbers are increasing for the first time since stabilized by the pandemic-enforced closure of the campus in spring 2020.

“Many four-year institutions are still below their freshman numbers from last year, let alone returning to their 2019 freshman numbers, which is very concerning,” Shapiro said. “And I think even the increase in community college freshmen is still small and nowhere near recovering from the huge declines in community college freshmen that we saw in the fall of 2020 and fall of 2021.”

The increases in lower-cost community colleges, while there are declines in four-year colleges, suggest that cost is a factor, Shapiro said. “That strongly suggests to me that affordability is part of the equation.”

Although the dataset is small and subject to change, the report said online institutions saw an enrollment jump of 3.2% and student enrollment at historically black colleges and universities rose 2.5% this fall, which due to the increase in the number of first-year students.

White students had the sharpest decline in undergraduate enrollment, down 3.6% since last year. The number of black students fell by 1.6%. Both Asian and Native American students fell 0.8%. The number of Latino students increased by 1.2%. Female students fell 2.1% while male students fell 0.7%.

The center’s data comes from 63% of the degree-granting institutions that receive federal funding, representing 10.3 million undergraduate and graduate students in the country. California results are based on 47% of institutions.

Teresa Watanabe, a Times contributor, contributed to this report. Emma Gallegos is a reporter for EdSource, a nonprofit, nonpartisan journalist organization that reports on education in California. California college enrollment continues to drop

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