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2022 College Enrollment Trends


College Freshman, former clients of Admissions Laboratory in New York, enjoying a coffee together between classes

The National Student Clearing House Research Center released its estimates for 2022 college enrollment trends recently. The Research Center is the research arm of the National Student Clearing House, a respected education industry nonprofit that collects and tracks data from 3,600 schools.


Our view is that while the data the National Student Clearing House Research Center releases has a tendency to get politicized by the groups and publications looking at it, the data itself is excellent and can be useful when thinking about broad trends in admissions.


First time undergraduate enrollment at 4-year public colleges was down (3.3%) in 2022, a deterioration from the poor 2021 trend of a negative (2.2%) and 2020’s slightly negative (.1%). In brief, the 3-year trend for enrollment at 4-year public colleges is ugly (and increasingly looking less related to COVID than many thought).


More interesting to us than the general trend is state-by-state data which shows particularly ugly 3-year declines in Pennsylvania, New York, Michigan, and Wisconsin. Negative enrollment data, and the increasing financial pressure it implies, can have a meaningful impact on public institutions as it can result in funding cuts and even school closings in severe situations.


From an admissions standpoint, the negative trends are a reason to be more worried about budget cuts in the states, in particular at the schools that are not the state "flagship" that could negatively impact student experience. That said, financial stress can also potentially lead to a better outlook for higher margin out-of-state students and act as a modest enrollment tailwind. Either way, the data is a jumping off point for more work to see trends that can impact applicants.


While less dramatic and impactful, 2022 trends for private 4-year colleges were also negative. From our view, the multiyear negative trends (particularly in the Midwest) point to potential opportunities for students to attend some of the better midwestern private schools that we think still exist for students from outside the Midwest, and in fact, might be increasing at a number of them.


There are many other trends to dig up in the data for those that are interested:

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