College enrollment still declining three years after lockdowns.

Enrollment in Postsecondary Education Continues to Decline

Despite the easing of lockdown restrictions, enrollment in most forms of postsecondary education in the United States continues to decline, according to a new analysis from the National Student Clearinghouse. The decline has been ongoing for three years since nationwide lockdowns forced many students to temporarily continue their degrees online.

Public four-year institutions saw a 0.8% enrollment decline as of spring 2023, while private four-year nonprofit institutions witnessed a 1.0% decrease. Community college enrollment, however, increased 0.5% as of spring 2023, driven by dual-enrolled high school students and freshmen.

The Impact of Lockdowns on Education

The postsecondary education marketplace has been critically disrupted by the lockdowns and the advent of virtual instruction, prompting students to question the time and funds they devote toward their college degrees. Elevated levels of student debt have also caused many students to pause or discontinue their education.

Lockdowns also severely diminished learning outcomes at the primary and secondary levels. The most recent National Assessment of Educational Progress showed that average reading scores for nine-year-olds plummeted five points and average mathematics scores dropped seven points, marking the first score decline for reading in three decades and the first score decline for mathematics in the history of the initiative.

The Rise of Homeschooling

Parents concerned about the impact of lockdowns on education have removed their children from government schools at an unprecedented rate. The number of homeschooled students increased from 2.7 million in 2020 to 3.1 million in 2023, according to a study from the National Home Education Research Institute.

The Future of Postsecondary Education

The decline in enrollment is a concerning trend that could have long-term implications for the future of postsecondary education. As Doug Shapiro, executive research director of the National Student Clearinghouse, noted, “That could be the beginning of a whole generation of students rethinking the value of college itself. I think if that were the case, this is much more serious than just a temporary pandemic-related disruption.”

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