When considering the post-COVID landscape, one of the more difficult sectors to predict is higher education. With many potential students having postponed their enrollment during the pandemic, will they come back for undergraduate, graduate, or doctoral degrees or seek out different paths? And for those who do return, how will their expectation for learning and campus lifestyle have changed?
The 2021 Spring Term Enrollment Estimate from the National Student Clearinghouse Research Center (NSCRC) contains figures showing the impact of COVID-19 on higher ed over the past year. Overall, postsecondary enrollment dropped 3.5% (603k students) in Spring 2021 compared to Spring 2020. Community colleges were hurt the most with a 9.5% drop, followed by private, for-profit schools at 1.5%. While non-profit colleges still took a hit with a 0.8% drop at private four-year and 0.6% at public universities, they were not as seriously impacted.
Interestingly, these drops in enrollment were all at the undergraduate level. Enrollment in graduate programs actually increased by 4.6% (124k students). In addition, enrollment by younger students in the 18 – 24 year age range dropped the most at community colleges (13.2%) with older adults (25+ years) only doing so at half that rate. This shift towards older students over the past year reversed a three-year downward trend in the average student age.
What can postsecondary institutions do to understand the factors behind these changes and plan for the future? For example, was the increase in graduate enrollment due to a temporary loss of employment or was the pandemic a wake-up call for those who have been on the fence about going back to school? Or both? And will younger people go back to their original education plans or consider other options?
Vennli works with our clients in higher education to understand how and why both current and potential students make decisions regarding their education so they can differentiate themselves from other institutions. Visit our Higher Education page to read how Vennli helped a postsecondary education client increase enrollment by 175% by identifying different segments within potential students and the messaging content to reach them.