College Enrollment Down Nationwide Amid COVID-19 Pandemic — Here’s a State-by-State (and School-by-School) Look at the Biggest Declines


The coronavirus pandemic has dramatically changed Americans’ lives, both economically and socially. And higher education hasn’t been spared. Many Americans used the pandemic to rethink their finances, including whether they should take out student loans and enroll in college.

Student Loan Hero researchers dug into Integrated Postsecondary Education Data System (IPEDS) data from approximately 1,800 colleges across the U.S. to see where the pandemic most impacted enrollment. Overall, enrollment dropped 3% between the 2019-2020 and 2020-2021 school years, with colleges in Wyoming, Alaska and Delaware most affected.

Researchers also tracked enrollment at the school level to highlight the colleges with the largest enrollment declines in the same period. Here are the findings.

Key findings

  • College enrollment is down 3% amid the pandemic. Across the nearly 1,800 colleges with available data, enrollment fell from 1.58 million in the 2019-2020 school year to 1.53 million in 2020-2021.
  • Six states saw double-digit enrollment declines between 2019-2020 and 2020-2021 school years. Wyoming led this group with a year-over-year drop of 19%, though it’s also the state with the smallest enrollment figures in 2020-2021 across the 50 states and the District of Columbia. Ahead of Wyoming is Alaska (16% decrease) and Delaware (12% decrease).
  • On the flip side, eight states saw enrollment increases in this period, led by two with double-digit jumps. New Hampshire colleges saw a 25% jump in enrollment, with Arizona behind at 10%.
  • Three states that saw growth between 2019-2020 and 2020-2021 school years still have enrollment numbers lower than before the pandemic. Enrollment numbers rose in 2020-2021 in North Dakota, New Mexico and Louisiana but were below the 2018-2019 figures before the pandemic.
  • At the school level, St. John’s University in New York saw the biggest enrollment decline between 2019-2020 and 2021-2021. Enrollment at the Queens school went from 3,135 in 2019-2020 to 2,082 in 2020-2021 — a drop of 34%.

College enrollment dropped 3% during pandemic

Amid the COVID-19 pandemic, colleges across the U.S. experienced a 3% decline in enrollment. Using data from nearly 1,800 colleges, Student Loan Hero researchers found enrollment dropped from 1.58 million in the 2019-2020 academic year to 1.53 million in 2020-2021.

The initial financial impact of the coronavirus crisis was widespread and devastating. The national unemployment rate spiked to 14.7% in April 2020 — the highest in recorded history — with 23.1 million people out of work. The crisis forced many consumers to reevaluate financial and life decisions, including whether going to college in this environment was right for them.

Other students may have decided to take a gap year, giving them a break on college tuition and room and board — both of which can be major expenses for students and their families. In fact, tuition is a worsening issue, as an August 2021 Student Loan Hero study found it rose 26% at public universities over the past decade — including in Louisiana by 99%.

As college price tags continue to grow and Americans continue to recover from the economic impact of the coronavirus crisis, we may continue to see college enrollment numbers drop. More people may opt for alternatives such as trade schools, apprenticeships or certification programs.

How was enrollment trending ahead of the pandemic? Enrollment was slightly higher in 2018-2019 at 1.60 million, equating to a smaller 1% year-over-year decrease between 2018-2019 and 2019-2020.

Enrollment decreased in double digits in 6 states

While colleges in the U.S. saw an overall dip in enrollment, schools in Wyoming, Alaska and Delaware experienced some of the highest declines — double digits, in fact.

In Wyoming, there was a year-over-year enrollment decrease of 19% between the 2019-2020 and 2020-2021 academic years. In 2019-20, there were 1,760 students enrolled in Wyoming colleges, but that number fell to 1,424 in 2020-2021.

Even before the pandemic in 2018-2019, Wyoming had the smallest number of enrolled students of any state at 1,859. For full transparency, the data for the state is for one school — the University of Wyoming — as it’s the only four-year university there.

Other states that experienced steep declines include:

  • Alaska (16%)
  • Delaware (12%)
  • Colorado (11%)
  • Washington (10%)
  • Vermont (10%)

Similar to Wyoming, Alaska, Delaware and Vermont have much lower enrollment numbers than more populated states.

In Alaska, the University of Alaska Anchorage had the most enrolled students in 2020-2021, totaling 1,057. In Delaware, the University of Delaware boasted the largest number with 4,174 students enrolled.

Even before the pandemic, however, some schools experienced a drop in numbers. For instance, the University of Alaska Anchorage went from 1,877 enrolled students in 2017-2018 to 1,606 in 2018-2019, then 1,356 during the 2019-2020 school year.

Schools in New Hampshire, Arizona saw double-digit enrollment increases

Despite the nationwide decline, not all schools watched enrollment numbers plunge during the pandemic. In New Hampshire and Arizona, enrollment increased in the double digits, by 25% and 10%, respectively.

Other schools that saw a jump in the number of enrolled students included:

  • Hawaii (9%)
  • Utah (7%)
  • Georgia (6%)
  • North Dakota (2%)
  • New Mexico (1%)
  • Louisiana (1%)

Schools in Florida and Nebraska experience zero fluctuation in their enrollment numbers.

However, despite experiencing growth between the 2019-2020 and 2020-2021 academic years, schools in North Dakota, New Mexico and Louisiana had enrollment numbers that were still below pre-pandemic numbers in 2018-2019:

  • North Dakota: 5,844 students were enrolled in 2018-2019, versus 5,639 in 2020-2021
  • New Mexico: 6,157 students were enrolled in 2018-2019, versus 6,003 in 2020-2021
  • Louisiana: 27,843 students were enrolled in 2018-2019, versus 27,535 in 2020-2021

While schools in these states are seeing some recovery, it’s at a slower pace. It may take time before these schools are back at their pre-pandemic enrollment numbers.

Here’s a look at the data in the 50 states and the District of Columbia:

How college enrollment has changed (by state)
Rank State 2020-2021 enrollment 2019-2020 enrollment Percentage change from 2019-2020 to 2020-2021
1 Wyoming 1,424 1,760 -19%
2 Alaska 1,904 2,266 -16%
3 Delaware 5,506 6,240 -12%
4 Colorado 26,021 29,117 -11%
5 Washington 23,947 26,703 -10%
6 Vermont 5,469 6,044 -10%
7 New Jersey 32,184 35,077 -8%
8 Mississippi 11,445 12,440 -8%
9 Minnesota 24,337 26,286 -7%
10 Oregon 15,168 16,382 -7%
11 Massachusetts 51,648 55,360 -7%
12 Pennsylvania 66,538 71,306 -7%
13 Maine 7,007 7,477 -6%
14 District of Columbia 8,558 9,132 -6%
15 Virginia 48,757 52,001 -6%
16 Michigan 47,102 50,079 -6%
17 Wisconsin 34,744 36,937 -6%
18 Idaho 10,211 10,849 -6%
19 New York 116,689 123,743 -6%
20 Maryland 20,638 21,882 -6%
21 South Dakota 5,944 6,288 -5%
22 Illinois 47,814 50,577 -5%
23 Montana 5,725 6,053 -5%
24 Ohio 58,420 61,748 -5%
25 Kansas 14,187 14,958 -5%
26 Iowa 18,885 19,908 -5%
27 Rhode Island 10,920 11,505 -5%
28 Oklahoma 15,916 16,698 -5%
29 West Virginia 10,850 11,381 -5%
30 Missouri 26,159 27,366 -4%
31 South Carolina 26,229 27,379 -4%
32 Arkansas 15,056 15,713 -4%
33 California 136,632 142,363 -4%
34 Tennessee 30,304 31,505 -4%
35 Indiana 45,987 47,800 -4%
36 Alabama 28,209 29,171 -3%
37 Connecticut 20,820 21,426 -3%
38 Nevada 8,387 8,601 -2%
39 North Carolina 51,189 52,255 -2%
40 Texas 110,059 111,882 -2%
41 Kentucky 23,724 23,989 -1%
42 Nebraska 11,034 11,007 0%
43 Florida 63,826 63,595 0%
44 Louisiana 27,535 27,189 1%
45 New Mexico 6,003 5,916 1%
46 North Dakota 5,639 5,551 2%
47 Georgia 61,622 58,088 6%
48 Utah 18,028 16,821 7%
49 Hawaii 4,358 3,988 9%
50 Arizona 36,805 33,467 10%
51 New Hampshire 22,970 18,338 25%

Source: Student Loan Hero analysis of Integrated Postsecondary Education Data System (IPEDS) data from the 2019-2020 and 2020-2021 school years.

St. John’s University experienced largest enrollment decrease during pandemic

We talked about what’s happening at the state level, but how about at the school level? According to our data analysis, St. John’s University in New York had the largest enrollment decline between the 2019-2020 and 2020-2021 school years.

For this portion of the analysis, Student Loan Hero researchers ruled out colleges with enrollment below 1,000 students and any schools that saw an increase in enrollment.

Enrollment numbers at the Queens college dropped a whopping 34% — from 3,135 in 2019-2020 to 2,082 in 2020-2021.

Other schools that saw significant declines in their enrollment numbers included:

  • Southern Connecticut State University (29%)
  • DeVry University in Illinois (29%)
  • Drexel University in Pennsylvania (26%)
  • University of Colorado Colorado Springs (26%)
  • University of Northern Colorado (25%)
  • San Francisco State University (25%)

The drops in enrollment at the University of Colorado Colorado Spring and the University of Northern Colorado follow the state of Colorado’s overall trend of enrollment declines (11%).

However, though Southern Connecticut State University has the second-highest rate of enrollment decrease, Connecticut itself has among the lowest year-over-year declines in enrollment (3%).

To provide a closer look, Student Loan Hero researchers compiled a list of the five schools in each state with the biggest enrollment drops between the 2019-2020 and 2020-2021 academic years. If five schools aren’t listed (or a state isn’t included), there weren’t five schools that matched our criteria and saw enrollment decrease. As such, populated states are more likely to have five schools listed here.

Biggest declines (by state)
School name 2020-2021 enrollment 2019-2020 enrollment Percentage change from 2019-2020 to 2020-2021
Alabama
Jacksonville State University 1,313 1,493 -12%
University of Alabama in Huntsville 1,345 1,497 -10%
University of Alabama at Birmingham 2,154 2,346 -8%
The University of Alabama 6,507 6,764 -4%
Alabama A&M University 1,664 1,710 -3%
Alaska
University of Alaska Anchorage 1,057 1,356 -22%
Arizona
University of Arizona 7,334 7,683 -5%
Northern Arizona University 5,217 5,455 -4%
Arkansas
Arkansas Tech University 1,756 2,091 -16%
Arkansas State University 1,293 1,395 -7%
University of Central Arkansas 1,715 1,840 -7%
California
San Francisco State University 2,779 3,694 -25%
California State University, East Bay 1,088 1,438 -24%
California State University, Stanislaus 1,238 1,568 -21%
California State University, San Bernardino 2,286 2,885 -21%
California State University, Northridge 4,016 4,792 -16%
Colorado
University of Colorado Colorado Springs 1,305 1,772 -26%
University of Northern Colorado 1,357 1,812 -25%
Colorado State University 4,579 5,218 -12%
University of Colorado Anschutz Medical Campus 1,397 1,585 -12%
University of Colorado Boulder 6,326 7,113 -11%
Connecticut
Southern Connecticut State University 1,081 1,523 -29%
Yale University 1,264 1,550 -18%
Central Connecticut State University 1,198 1,377 -13%
University of Hartford 1,141 1,234 -8%
Fairfield University 1,118 1,176 -5%
Delaware
Delaware State University 1,001 1,142 -12%
University of Delaware 4,174 4,617 -10%
District of Columbia
George Washington University 1,978 2,619 -24%
American University 1,607 1,754 -8%
Florida
Florida A&M University 1,039 1,361 -24%
Florida State University 6,009 7,106 -15%
Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University 1,499 1,710 -12%
Southeastern University 1,267 1,389 -9%
Florida Gulf Coast University 2,595 2,774 -6%
Georgia
Savannah College of Art and Design 2,128 2,775 -23%
Georgia State University Perimeter College 3,148 3,929 -20%
Augusta University 1,028 1,119 -8%
Georgia College & State University 1,363 1,481 -8%
Emory University 1,344 1,374 -2%
Idaho
Brigham Young University-Idaho 4,887 5,211 -6%
Boise State University 2,845 2,993 -5%
University of Idaho 1,425 1,475 -3%
Illinois
DeVry University 1,080 1,518 -29%
University of Illinois Chicago 3,541 4,407 -20%
Loyola University Chicago 2,129 2,630 -19%
Illinois State University 3,353 3,860 -13%
Southern Illinois University Edwardsville 1,554 1,667 -7%
Indiana
University of Southern Indiana 1,286 1,585 -19%
Purdue University Fort Wayne 1,388 1,609 -14%
Ball State University 3,567 4,072 -12%
Indiana University-Purdue University Indianapolis 3,811 4,295 -11%
Purdue University Northwest 1,099 1,235 -11%
Iowa
University of Iowa 4,510 4,986 -10%
Iowa State University 5,071 5,597 -9%
Kansas
University of Kansas 3,829 4,125 -7%
Kansas State University 2,986 3,202 -7%
Wichita State University 1,579 1,689 -7%
Kentucky
Morehead State University 1,199 1,315 -9%
University of Kentucky 4,891 5,348 -9%
Northern Kentucky University 1,836 1,950 -6%
Eastern Kentucky University 2,271 2,349 -3%
Louisiana
Louisiana Tech University 1,864 2,050 -9%
University of Louisiana at Lafayette 2,338 2,536 -8%
Southeastern Louisiana University 2,580 2,727 -5%
Nicholls State University 1,200 1,242 -3%
Tulane University 1,801 1,821 -1%
Maine
University of Maine 2,059 2,140 -4%
Maryland
Salisbury University 1,218 1,470 -17%
Towson University 2,394 2,795 -14%
Morgan State University 1,213 1,374 -12%
Loyola University Maryland 1,008 1,081 -7%
Johns Hopkins University 1,405 1,475 -5%
Massachusetts
Harvard University 1,407 1,649 -15%
Bridgewater State University 1,389 1,611 -14%
University of Massachusetts Lowell 2,082 2,391 -13%
University of Massachusetts Amherst 5,055 5,766 -12%
Merrimack College 1,086 1,179 -8%
Michigan
Ferris State University 1,540 1,892 -19%
Central Michigan University 2,088 2,473 -16%
Northern Michigan University 1,360 1,610 -16%
Oakland University 2,258 2,667 -15%
Eastern Michigan University 1,922 2,152 -11%
Minnesota
Winona State University 1,282 1,555 -18%
Saint Cloud State University 1,022 1,237 -17%
University of Minnesota Duluth 1,780 2,043 -13%
University of St. Thomas 1,487 1,579 -6%
University of Minnesota Twin Cities 5,966 6,278 -5%
Mississippi
University of Southern Mississippi 1,675 1,888 -11%
Mississippi State University 3,223 3,500 -8%
University of Mississippi 3,024 3,232 -6%
Missouri
Saint Louis University 1,542 1,902 -19%
University of Central Missouri 1,084 1,249 -13%
University of Missouri-Kansas City 1,059 1,196 -11%
Northwest Missouri State University 1,221 1,355 -10%
Missouri University of Science and Technology 1,111 1,145 -3%
Montana
The University of Montana 1,296 1,482 -13%
Montana State University 3,259 3,366 -3%
Nebraska
Creighton University 1,015 1,076 -6%
Nevada
University of Nevada, Reno 3,351 3,547 -6%
New Hampshire
Dartmouth College 1,057 1,190 -11%
University of New Hampshire 2,630 2,731 -4%
New Jersey
Seton Hall University 1,336 1,631 -18%
William Paterson University of New Jersey 1,263 1,537 -18%
Rowan University 2,238 2,698 -17%
Princeton University 1,154 1,335 -14%
New Jersey Institute of Technology 1,191 1,360 -12%
New York
St. John’s University 2,082 3,135 -34%
Marist College 1,101 1,358 -19%
John Jay College of Criminal Justice 1,692 2,056 -18%
New York City College of Technology 2,898 3,466 -16%
The New School 1,239 1,467 -16%
North Carolina
University of North Carolina Wilmington 2,025 2,342 -14%
Western Carolina University 1,823 2,107 -13%
University of North Carolina at Greensboro 2,432 2,746 -11%
Duke University 1,580 1,731 -9%
North Carolina A&T State University 2,136 2,289 -7%
North Dakota
University of North Dakota 1,614 1,673 -4%
Ohio
University of Toledo 2,363 3,037 -22%
Ohio University 3,126 3,671 -15%
Wright State University 1,181 1,374 -14%
Miami University 3,824 4,309 -11%
Kent State 3,870 4,307 -10%
Oklahoma
University of Central Oklahoma 1,844 1,963 -6%
University of Oklahoma 4,422 4,523 -2%
Oklahoma State University 4,144 4,200 -1%
Oregon
University of Oregon 3,920 4,525 -13%
Portland State University 1,515 1,674 -9%
Pennsylvania
Drexel University 2,339 3,178 -26%
Bloomsburg University of Pennsylvania 1,593 1,992 -20%
Millersville University of Pennsylvania 1,160 1,334 -13%
Duquesne University 1,195 1,302 -8%
Slippery Rock University of Pennsylvania 1,463 1,580 -7%
Rhode Island
Johnson & Wales University-Providence 1,219 1,479 -18%
South Carolina
Coastal Carolina University 2,056 2,304 -11%
University of South Carolina 5,742 6,286 -9%
South Dakota
University of South Dakota 1,232 1,321 -7%
South Dakota State University 2,087 2,123 -2%
Tennessee
Austin Peay State University 1,438 1,716 -16%
East Tennessee State University 1,651 1,786 -8%
Middle Tennessee State University 3,093 3,312 -7%
University of Memphis 2,541 2,683 -5%
Belmont University 1,595 1,684 -5%
Texas
Texas A&M University-Corpus Christi 1,555 1,915 -19%
The University of Texas at Dallas 3,476 4,073 -15%
Stephen F. Austin State University 1,764 2,062 -14%
Texas Woman’s University 1,130 1,301 -13%
Angelo State University 1,277 1,436 -11%
Vermont
University of Vermont 2,487 2,636 -6%
Virginia
Radford University 1,336 1,651 -19%
Virginia Commonwealth University 3,756 4,401 -15%
Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University 6,608 7,651 -14%
Norfolk State University 1,066 1,225 -13%
Christopher Newport University 1,155 1,238 -7%
Washington
Central Washington University 1,723 2,172 -21%
Western Washington University 2,494 3,116 -20%
Eastern Washington University 1,534 1,826 -16%
Gonzaga University 1,052 1,248 -16%
Washington State University 4,191 4,812 -13%
West Virginia
West Virginia University 4,494 4,949 -9%
Marshall University 1,728 1,769 -2%
Wisconsin
Marquette University 1,651 1,977 -16%
University of Wisconsin-Oshkosh 1,854 2,165 -14%
University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee 3,249 3,760 -14%
University of Wisconsin-Stout 1,332 1,491 -11%
University of Wisconsin-River Falls 1,088 1,203 -10%
Wyoming
University of Wyoming 1,424 1,760 -19%

Source: Student Loan Hero analysis of Integrated Postsecondary Education Data System (IPEDS) data from the 2019-2020 and 2020-2021 school years. Researchers excluded colleges with enrollment figures below 1,000 in 2020-2021 and schools that saw enrollment rise in this period. Five schools were listed for each state when the full criteria was met — otherwise, we listed however many qualified. Three states — Hawaii, New Mexico and Utah — didn’t have any schools that qualified to be listed.

Tips on how to enroll in college

Enrolling in college can be intimidating if you don’t know what to expect along the way. Here’s what you need to do to enroll in a college of your choosing.

  • Fill out an application: Before you enroll in a school, you’ll need to find out if you’ll be accepted. Visit the school’s website to determine what you’ll need to fill out, including an application. Many schools require that you write an essay as part of the process, and some will require you to submit your high school transcripts and test scores (such as the ACT or SAT).
  • Wait for an acceptance letter: After you submit your application, the school will reach out to you as to whether you met their admission qualifications, often via an acceptance letter or email.
  • Submit your financial aid: Once you’ve been accepted into a school, you must fill out a Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA). This will allow you to calculate how much money in loans and grants you’ll be eligible to receive from the federal government, as well as how much may need to come out of pocket.
  • Sign up for classes: After you’ve turned in your documents, you’ll get to the fun part: selecting your classes. Many schools typically provide guidance and have requirements for what classes first-year students will have to take. Your academic advisor may also be able to help you select which classes to take.

Methodology

Student Loan Hero researchers analyzed enrollment data from the Integrated Postsecondary Education Data System (IPEDS) to calculate changes between the 2019-2020 and 2020-2021 school years.

Researchers started with data from nearly 1,800 U.S. colleges — including public and private, two-year and four-year, and undergraduate and graduate. Researchers combined enrollment figures at the school level to calculate state changes.

For our school-by-school look, researchers excluded colleges with enrollment figures below 1,000 in 2020-2021. This list was limited to schools that saw a year-over-year decrease in enrollment.



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