5 enrollment trends to keep an eye on for fall 2022

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US college enrollment is down again down 1.1% for autumn 2022 from the previous year. There were declines in all types of institutions, including community colleges, public universities, and nonprofit schools.

But the topline number hides some interesting enrollment trends at play this fall. For example, while community colleges still saw a slight decline, it’s much smaller than the double-digit declines those institutions suffered in the early days of the pandemic. And some institutions — like historically black colleges and universities — actually saw increases in enrollments this semester.

Below, we take a look at five big enrollment trends college officials should know about. you are based on preliminary data from the National Student Clearinghouse Research Center.

Student enrollment at HBCUs is increasing

Percent change in student enrollment year-over-year by college type

Despite overall undergraduate enrollment falling, HBCUs saw a 2.5% jump this year. The surge erased the losses the sector had experienced over the past year and increased enrollments by 0.8% over the past two years.

However, other types of institutions are still awaiting the restoration of their enrollment.

For example, Spanish-language institutions saw a 1.2% decline in enrollment year-over-year, meaning these schools overall underperform colleges. Over the past two years, their enrollment has fallen by 6%, compared to an overall decline of 4.2% across all higher education institutions.

HBCUs weren’t the only outlier for fall 2022. Student enrollment at primarily online institutions, where more than 90% of pre-pandemic students attended virtually, increased 3.2% year over year in fall 2022. This wiped out the undergraduate enrollment losses recorded last year.

However, graduate enrollments at these institutions fell by 0.9%, compounding the year-on-year declines. Since 2020, graduate enrollment at mostly online institutions has fallen by 7.7%. It’s important to note that this data is based on a small sample of colleges, according to the Clearinghouse.

Dual enrollment leads to higher student numbers at community colleges

Year-over-year percentage change in enrollment by student age group

Community colleges saw relatively low enrollment in the fall of 2022, with enrollment falling 0.4%. The sector has been hit in recent semesters as it has borne the brunt of pandemic-related enrollment declines.

This fall’s decline wasn’t as bad as previous declines due to increases in dual enrollment, in which high school students take community college courses as part of their studies. This type of enrollment grew 11.5% year-over-year, represented by students aged 17 and under.

However, community colleges continued to see worrying declines in all other age categories. Students aged 25 to 29 showed the worst enrollment declines, with numbers down 9.2% from a year earlier.

Declines are concentrated in the least selective colleges

Year-over-year percentage change in undergraduate enrollment by institutional selectivity

Looking at colleges based on their admission rates, only very selective colleges saw an increase in undergraduate enrollment in the fall of 2022 — and even there, staff numbers increased by just 0.5% year over year. The declines were sharpest among the less selective colleges, which recorded a 2.6% drop.

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A similar trend was seen over the past year, when all colleges except those that were highly selective experienced a drop in enrollments.

Adult enrollment continues to decline

Percent change in student enrollment year-over-year by age group

The enrollment of adult students, generally considered to be people aged 25 and over, continued to decline year on year in the fall of 2022. Students aged 25 to 29 saw the largest declines at 8.2%. Meanwhile, adults over 30 also fell by 4.2%.

Only students aged 17 and under or 18–20 years old saw an increase in enrollment.

But even the increase of 0.5% among 18 to 20 year olds was not enough to compensate for the previous year’s losses. Enrollment for all students aged 18 and over has declined over the past two years.