College enrollment drops 16% nationwide among first years

"Enrollment for first-year students has dropped significantly at colleges across the country in the wake of COVID-19, the National Student Clearinghouse Research Center found.

First-year enrollment has dropped 16% overall and nearly 25% at community colleges, The New York Times reported. First years currently account for 69% of the overall 4% drop in college enrollment. The shift comes as many universities have moved classes online or declined to invite most or all students back to campus due to the pandemic.

Higher education experts say the drop is most likely to affect Black, Latinx, and low-income students who are more likely to attend the community colleges that have seen the largest decrease in first year enrollment, the Times reported.

Many students may have felt that their college will not do enough to protect them from contracting COVID-19, the Times reported. At SUNY Oneonta, which opted to bring students back to campus, 700 students tested positive before the campus was closed again." …

Increase in number of students taking gap years could lead to more competitive admissions for next year as number of openings for first year students must accommodate a larger than typical number of gap year students.

Nevertheless, I expect that many colleges & universities will be flexible enough to accommodate a larger than normal entering first year class as dorms need to be filled. This leads to the question about whether the covid-19 pandemic experience will lead to long lasting changes for colleges and universities in terms of social distancing spacing in dorms and classrooms.