College enrollment has grown for the first time since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic. Undergraduate students have enrolled 2.1% more in fall 2023, according to a report by the National Student Clearinghouse Research Center.
The report included 9.6 million undergraduate and graduate students, as reported by about 1,500 institutions. Although data dates from Sept. 28, 2023, the NSCRC noted the results are preliminary. Additional data will be reported and are scheduled for release in January.
Community colleges accounted for 59% of the increase in undergraduates. Students also opted for shorter programs, such as undergraduate certificates and associate degrees. An increase was also seen in graduate certificate programs, with enrollment being up 5.7% this year and 9.9% since 2021.
“This is good news for community colleges and for the growing numbers of continuing and returning students who had lost momentum from the start of the pandemic,” Douglas Shapiro, executive director of the National Student Clearinghouse Research Center, said in a news release, according to Forbes. “In a more troubling sign, however, the initial recovery among freshmen last year appears to have stalled as more 18-to 20-year-olds, especially at four-year institutions, are opting out.”
Freshman enrollment has declined by 3.6%.
“It’s hard to know what’s really driving this divergence between freshmen and continuing students, but it’s certainly counterintuitive,” Shapiro added, according to The Washington Post. “It’s possible that some of this can be accounted for by … students staying in longer because they need more time to complete their degree.”
Students of color accounted for most of the increase in undergraduate and graduate programs, with a growth of 2.1% for Black students and 3.8% for multiracial students.
The popularity of historically Black colleges and universities is on the rise and outpaced overall undergraduate enrollment by seeing a growth of over 6%.