Undergraduate Fall 2021 Enrollment Data

Research Rundown Issue: November '21
Publisher: National Student Clearinghouse Research Center
Date Published: October '21


New data reveals that, on average, college enrollment is down 6.5% from pre-pandemic levels in 2019. The steepest declines were for public 2-year community colleges (14.1%) and private, for-profit 4-year colleges (12.9%). Enrollment declined most dramatically for incoming freshmen, down 20.8% at public 2-year colleges and 22.3% at private, for-profit 4-year colleges.

Examining student enrollment across race and ethnicity reveals that each and every group had an enrollment decline of at least 5%. The largest declines are amongst Indigenous students (21.2%), Black students (11.1%), and white students (10.6%). Enrollment for international students also declined by 21.2%.

Why This Matters in Minnesota

The large declines in undergraduate enrollment have been felt in Minnesota. From fall 2019 to 2021, enrollment in the Minnesota State system has decreased by 21,000 students (11%), with administrators indicating that it was worse than anticipated. So far, however, enrollment at the University of Minnesota’s five campuses has remained stable.

These declines in enrollment represent real students, who for a variety of reasons, have chosen not to enroll at the rates expected. If they do not go on to enroll in the future, they could  face long-term consequences in the workforce and beyond. There are several benefits to postsecondary education, including improvements in health, employment, lifetime earnings, overall well-being, and retirement. Furthermore, almost two-thirds of the fastest growing occupations require some type of postsecondary education—whether it be an associate’s or bachelor’s degree, or a certificate.

To increase student enrollment, particularly for students from underserved backgrounds, there have been a number of different initiatives across Minnesota. The University of Minnesota recently announced that they would offer free or reduced tuition for Indigenous students starting in fall 2022. During the 2021 legislative session, Governor Walz supported a bill that would have automatically enrolled students into Minnesota’s public colleges and universities if they met approved benchmarks, like having a certain grade point average. These and other provisions should be built on to ensure college access recovers in the wake of COVID-19.

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