News in Brief

By AGB    //    Volume 29,  Number 1   //    January/February 2021

Fall Student Enrollment Drops 

Enrollment for this academic year has declined further since the early fall [2020]. As of November 19, 2020, with 76 percent of colleges reporting data to the National Student Clearinghouse Research Center (NSCRC), the final report showed that postsecondary enrollment was down 2.5 percent overall, which is nearly twice the rate of enrollment decline in fall 2019. Undergraduate enrollment decreased 3.6 percent from fall 2019, which is about 560,200 fewer students.

The most marked drop in enrollment is first-time students (freshmen), which declined 13.1 percent, or 327,500 students, over last fall. Community colleges saw the steepest drop in first-time student enrollment: a 21 percent decline of first-time students enrolled in community college this fall (that is 207,200 fewer students than usual who enroll as first-time students at community colleges). Private nonprofit four-year colleges also saw double-digit declines in freshman enrollment (more than 45,500 students, 10.5 percent decrease), followed by public four-year institutions (more than 81,600 students, 8.1 percent decrease).

Overall, two-year public community college enrollment dropped 10.1 percent—an enrollment loss of 544,200 students over last year. Private four-year institutions saw a slight decrease in enrollment—0.1 percent. In contrast, public four-year institutions’ enrollment increased 0.2 percent (an additional 14,300 students) from last fall, driven by the growth in graduate enrollment (more than 62,500 students) and undergraduate-level certificate or other non-degree program enrollments (nearly 17,000 students). Meanwhile, private for-profit four-year institutions grew by 5.3 percent over last year and was the only sector to demonstrate enrollment growth at both the undergraduate and graduate levels; this sector accounts for a small share of postsecondary enrollment (4.4 percent).

Graduate enrollment overall increased 3.6 percent or 98,800 students from the previous fall.

International student enrollment declined 16 percent overall this fall. New international student enrollment (first-time students) in  the United States decreased by a whopping 43 percent over last year, according to the Fall 2020 International Student Enrollment Snapshot, a report released in November 2020 by the International Institute of Education and nine other higher education organizations.

Federal Data Sheds Light on Pandemic-Related Job Loss in Higher Ed 

Unprecedented job loss in higher education continues due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Data from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) suggests that there were 152,000 fewer workers at higher education institutions in September 2020 than in August 2020. Additionally, BLS estimates colleges and universities shed 484,000 employees, a tenth of the labor force, since the beginning of the pandemic.

New Project Ranks the Transparency of COVID Dashboards 

We Rate COVID Dashboards is a project that evaluates the transparency of 323 colleges’ and universities’ COVID-19 dashboards. Howard Forman and Cary Gross, professors at the Yale University College of Medicine, created this project, which reports through its website and a Twitter account.

According to the We Rate COVID Dashboards website, it provides a letter grade to institutions based on nine criteria: Easy to read? Updated daily? +/- Total data presented? Students/staff results? City/ county data? Frequency of testing? Test result time? Isolation/quarantine data? Campus summary? Amherst College (A++), Tulane University (A+), and George Mason University (A+) are among the highest-rated dashboards. Twenty-one colleges and universities received failing grades because many did not have dashboards.

However, the absence of a dashboard or even vague COVID dashboards can be detrimental to institutions. Inside Higher Ed reported (on December 1, 2020) that incomplete dashboards can make it difficult for “stakeholders to make decisions, and difficult for the public to compare across institutions.” Forman told Inside Higher Ed, “I think that the public needs to hold institutions accountable, whether they are public or private institutions.” We Rate COVID Dashboards’ chief of operations, Ayotomiwa Ojo, concurs with Forman. “We are doing this with the hopes that everyone will get an A-plus-plus,” said Ojo.

International Student Enrollments Decline, Pandemic Worsens the Downturn 

This fall, 43 percent fewer new international students enrolled in U.S. higher education institutions for the first time over last year according to the 2020 Fall International Student Enrollment Snapshot Survey conducted by IIE and nine partner higher education associations. Overall, there was a 16 percent decline in international students studying in the U.S. and at U.S. institutions online during the fall 2020 semester due to the impact of the COVID- 19 pandemic. Nearly all (99 percent) U.S. institutions taught classes online or used a hybrid teaching model during the fall 2020 semester. More than 710 institutions participated in this survey.

The United States has hosted more than one million international students at colleges and universities for the fifth consecutive academic year, according to The 2020 Open Doors® Report on International Educational Exchange, released in November 2020. There was a slight decline (1.8 percent) in the number of international students in the United States during the 2019–2020 academic year, which was a decline of international student enrollment for the fourth straight year. Despite the multiyear-over-year decline, international students still represent 5.5 percent of all students in U.S. higher education. According to the U.S. Department of Commerce, international students contributed $44 billion to the U.S. economy in 2019.

The 2020 Open Doors Report, released by the U.S. Department of State’s Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs and the Institute of International Education (IIE), provides a critical baseline on the state of international educational exchange prior to the impacts of the pandemic. During the 2019–2020 academic year, the United States remained the top destination for international students. New international student enrollment continued to stabilize (-0.6 percent) and showed marked improvement from a 7 percent decline over the previous two years.

NAFSA: Association of International Educators released data in November 2020 that showed that the more than one million international students at U.S. colleges and universities during the 2019–2020 academic year contributed $38.7 billion to the U.S. economy, which is down 4.4 percent (a loss of $1.8 billion) from the prior academic year. This is the first time that the dollar amount has dropped since NAFSA began calculating the economic contributions of international students and their families to the U.S. economy, more than 20 years ago. NAFSA’s new research also revealed that the dollar impact of COVID-19 on the economic contributions of international students was $1.17 billion.

“Unfortunately, this disappointing news is not surprising,” said NAFSA Executive Director and CEO Esther D. Brimmer. “For the past four years, international students and scholars have had to endure travel bans, executive orders, detrimental regulatory actions and xenophobic rhetoric from the highest levels of U.S. government. The lack of a coordinated national pandemic response made the situation even more difficult. As the economic value decreases, we are reminded of the immense contributions that international students bring to America.”


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