Notes on College Enrollment


College enrollment is in “crisis.” According to the National Center for Education Statistics, “Between fall 2010 and fall 2021, total undergraduate enrollment in degree-granting postsecondary institutions decreased by 15 percent (from 18.1 million to 15.4 million students).” After a small spike in 2022, freshman enrollment declined again in 2023, with “the plunge in enrollment the worst ever recorded.”

Low birth rates are part of the story behind this “enrollment cliff.” But, they are only part. Just as important is the growing disinterest that many high school students have in graduating from college. According to data from Monitoring the Future, a long-running survey of American 12thgraders, the percentage of high school seniors reporting no interest in graduating from a four-year college rose from 18% to 28% between 2011 and 2022 (Figure 1).