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Preliminary enrollment data for the fall of 2023 has largely brought good news for colleges and universities.
Bachelor’s enrollment up 2.1% compared to the previous year, with all major institutional sectors enjoying increases, including four-year institutions and community colleges. Meanwhile, graduate enrollment rose 0.7%, an encouraging sign for the sector after the number of employees fell by 0.9% in autumn 2022.
But initial numbers also pointed to storm clouds ahead. First-year enrollment fell 3.6 percent this fall, nearly reversing the gains colleges saw last year in that group.
The findings are based on preliminary data from the National Student Clearinghouse Research Center as of Sept. 28. They come from 55 percent of the Title IV degree-granting colleges that participate in the clearinghouse, covering about 9.6 million students.
We further break down some of the recording trends below:
Short-term letters of credit gained momentum
Annual Percentage Change in Enrollment by Credential Type
Short-term letters of credit continue to prove popular with undergraduate and graduate students. In the fall of 2023, enrollment in baccalaureate certificate programs increased by 9.9% over the previous year, while enrollment in graduate degrees increased by 5.7%.
Graduate programs did not perform well. Master’s programs saw the smallest increase in enrollment, at 0.2 percent, followed by bachelor’s degree programs, which saw headcount increase by 0.9 percent.
First-year student enrollment declined at four-year colleges
Annual percentage change in first-year enrollment by institution type
The decline in freshmen is concentrated at four-year colleges, public and private. Enrollment for this group fell 6.1 percent at public four-year colleges and 4 percent at private nonprofits.
Meanwhile, the number of freshmen at community colleges remained steady, falling just 0.2 percent. And four-year for-profit colleges enjoyed a large 10.8% increase in first-year students.
White student enrollment declined at the undergraduate and graduate levels
Annual percentage change in fall 2023 enrollment by race
Almost all racial and ethnic groups the clearinghouse tracked saw enrollment increases at the undergraduate and graduate levels.
Latino students had the largest increase in undergraduate enrollment, growing 4.2 percent. Asian students, meanwhile, had the biggest increase at the tertiary level, reaching 6%.
However, white student enrollment declined by 0.9% at the undergraduate level and by 1.9% at the graduate level.
Undergraduate enrollment was mixed across age groups
Annual percentage change in student enrollment by age group
Enrollment trends were mixed across age groups. Those 17 or younger, which includes high school students in dual enrollment programs, increased by 8.8 percent, continuing a rapid increase from the previous year.
Students between the ages of 18 and 20 also saw a 3% increase. Enrollment of students over 30 also increased by 2.9%
However, students between the ages of 21 and 29 saw a decline of about 1%.
Vermont saw the largest drop in enrollment, while Kentucky had the largest increase
Fall 2023 Annual Percentage Change in Enrollment by State
Most states enjoyed an overall increase in enrollment. Only nine states saw declines, with Vermont’s 4.7 percent drop in enrollment accounting for the largest drop. Iowa and Pennsylvania, meanwhile, had essentially flat enrollment.
The preliminary data does not include data for New Jersey, Oregon, Rhode Island or Washington because of the low number of institutions or low enrollment coverage, according to the clearinghouse.