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Freshmen student enrollment down 16% as colleges see plummet in fall semester student population

The undergraduate student population has dropped 4% on campuses.

Published: October 16, 2020 11:34am

Updated: October 16, 2020 5:09pm

The total undergraduate population on U.S. campuses has dropped 4%, and first-year enrollment rates have decreased by 16%, according to data from the National Student Clearinghouse Research Center

The nonprofit group found the decreases are attributable to students not wanting to take classes online, concern over traveling to places considered COVID-19 hot spots, and financial strains related to family job losses.

Graduate enrollment increased by 2.7%, according to the report released Thursday. The data was collected from 9.2 million students at colleges that report to the group. 

The data also showed that undergraduate enrollment among men fell by 6.4%, while the decrease among female students was 2.2%. The decline in total enrollment was sharpest at community colleges. Private, for-profit, four-year schools was the only sector to have an enrollment increase among freshman, up 3.7%.

This year has created many hardships and changes for students, and the idea of college may be shifting for future classes.

"With more data, the downward trends identified in September's First Look report appear steeper, while also emerging for more states and student groups," said Doug Shapiro, executive director of the National Student Clearinghouse Research Center. "Most strikingly, freshman students are by far the biggest decline of any group from last year, with a decrease of 16.1% nationally and a 22.7% drop at community colleges in particular. First-time students account for 69% of the total drop in undergraduate enrollment."

The large decline may have long term effects on state and public schools, which rely heavily on the government for funding and other assistance programs.

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