Enrollment for colleges and universities have fallen once again since the beginning of the pandemic, with over a million fewer students currently enrolled across the country. According to data released by the National Student Clearinghouse Research Center (NSCRC) earlier this year, higher education enrollment is down by 2.7 percent in 2021, following the 2.5 percent decline from the previous year, comprising an estimated decline of 938,000 students. Undergraduate enrollment fell by 3.1 percent, approximately 465,300 fewer students.
Every kind of higher education institution saw a decrease in enrollment numbers, with the largest drops reported from public four-year colleges (251,400 fewer students) and the steepest declines reported from private for-profit four-year colleges (an 11.1 percent plunge). Community colleges also plummeted with 161,800 fewer associate degree-seeking students. Continuing this trend, public four-year institutions saw an 11 percent decline, private non-profit four-year institutions saw a 6.2 percent decline, and private for-profit four-year institutions saw a 11.9 percent decline.
According to a report by the Arizona Board of Regents (ABOR), high school graduation rates currently stand at 78 percent, with only 46.3 percent of those graduates going on to either a two- or four-year institution. Compared to national rates, Arizona students are currently half as likely to graduate from college than the national average. Back in January, ABOR executive director John Arnold spoke at the Arizona Legislature’s joint education committee meeting, emphasizing the looming crisis of lowering enrollment rates. He reported that if the state continues on the trajectory for enrollment that the state is currently on, only 17 percent of today’s ninth graders will graduate from a college by 2029. By that same year, just over 75 percent of those ninth graders will hold a high school diploma or none at all.
With a growing job market in demand for college-educated workers, state officials are hard pressed to solve this growing crisis, while aspiring students of all ages hold out their hope for a more accessible future.