Enrollment rates 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 a 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.
In the state of Wisconsin, there are approximately 320,411 active students enrolled in the 2021-2022 academic year, around 280,821 undergraduate students and 39,590 graduate students. While graduate enrollment in particular fell below the 2.1 national graduate enrollment, Wisconsin graduate programs did see a slight bump up of 0.9 percent in 2021. Mikyung Ryu, the director of research publications at NSCRC, has pointed out that international student enrollment may be why graduate student enrollment rates are rising when compared to the falling undergraduate rate, but the data does not fully clarify why that is the case.
Governor Tony Evers has repeatedly called attention to the impact COVID-19 has had on Wisconsin residents – especially those seeking higher education during these uncertain times. The Governor has announced an investment of $5 million into the UW system in order to provide more extensive mental health services to students. In a recently released health survey, 75 percent of UW students screened positive for moderate to severe psychological stress during 2021. The Governor has also proposed that the UW system receive funding of $25 million in order to secure the state’s tuition freeze for the next two years. “With these additional funds, the UW System and Board of Regents can ensure that tuition prices for our in-state students will not go up for the next two years, giving our students and families one less thing to worry about,” Gov. Evers said.