Empty seats are inflicting financial damage on colleges already reeling from the pandemic. Earlier this year, when the virus began spreading, many schools cleared their campuses of students and refunded housing costs. With enrollment waning, revenue from tuition, dormitories and dining halls is being hurt at a time when some institutions are posting low endowment returns.
“The colleges are losing billions of dollars,” said Jack Maguire, founder of the enrollment-consulting firm Maguire Associates and former dean of admissions at Boston College. “It may not be the end of it if this new wave hits and students are sent home again.”
The drop in international undergraduates is among the deepest, at 13.7%. In July, the Trump administration introduced a federal rule that would have required foreign students at U.S. universities to take at least one in-person class or risk deportation if schools switched to online only. While the guidelines were quickly rescinded, international students still struggle with travel restrictions and visa issues.
Undergraduate enrollment is down at all types of institutions except private for-profit colleges, according to Research Center data collected in the semester through Sept. 24.
First-year undergraduate student enrollment fell 13.7% at public four-year colleges and 11.8% at their private nonprofit counterparts. It slid 22.7% at community colleges.
Nationally, the Midwest saw the steepest decline, at 5.7%. Schools in the region have enrolled fewer students in the last several years, largely because of demographic trends.
One bright spot in the report was a 2.7% increase in graduate student enrollment.
The National Student Clearinghouse Research Center collects data from more than 3,600 post-secondary institutions. The study accounts for about 9.2 million students, or almost 54% of post-secondary institutions reporting. Full data are expected later this year.