2020 Fall Enrollment Trends -- The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly

If you work in the higher education industry, you probably don't need a report to tell you that 2020 was a challenge for colleges and universities.  However, the most recent report put together by the National Student Clearinghouse (link here) gives insight into how COVID has affected enrollment in each type of school and demographic -- and it's not all doom and gloom.

The Bad

Starting with the most obvious, enrollment has declined precipitously at many schools, especially for younger college students, many of whom have decided to take a gap year instead of attending remotely.

Overall Freshman Enrollment 16.1% decline
Community College Enrollment 18.9% decline
Public 4-year College 10.5% decline
Private Nonprofit 4-year College 8.5% decline

The Ugly

Because of decreasing enrollment, tuition revenues have reduced dramatically.  This has affected the programs, staffing, and financial viability of many schools -- even causing some to consider merging with other schools (see Forbes article).

To illustrate this, below is an example of a 500 student decline in enrollment at the community college level.

Decline in enrollment (in students) 500
Average Tuition $3,300
Tuition Shortfall ($1,650,000)

The Good

Fortunately, there are two areas where enrollment has either stayed constant or increased.

  • Post-Graduate Enrollment has increased 2.9%
  • Private, for-profit enrollment has stayed the same

We believe that there are two factors driving this.

  1. Post-graduate students are older and fit the non-traditional definition.  In a world where they have to choose between entering the workforce or continuing their education, they are often choosing the latter.
  2. Private, for-profit colleges often follow a rigorous inbound marketing strategy throughout the attract-to-onboard journey.  This increased level of engagement at each stage of the process minimizes the number of candidates who fall out of the admissions funnel and increases yield.

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