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After the pandemic students are starting to come back to college, report shows


During the pandemic, colleges and universities around the country lost more than one million undergraduates, but a new report shows students are starting to come back. Here's NPR's Janet Woojeong Lee.

JANET WOOJEONG LEE, BYLINE: Enrollment numbers are still nowhere near where they were before fall of 2020, but on the bright side, the latest results...

DOUG SHAPIRO: Are surprisingly good. Undergraduate enrollments have increased 2.5% compared to last spring.

WOOJEONG LEE: That's Doug Shapiro. He's the executive director of the National Student Clearinghouse Research Center that tracks college enrollment nationwide. Shapiro says he's feeling pretty optimistic.

SHAPIRO: This is the first, I would say, appreciable increase since the pandemic.

WOOJEONG LEE: There are now nearly 18 million college students in the United States. Shapiro and his team's report shows that the majority of the growth from last spring comes from community college enrollment. Community colleges that serve more low-income students and students of color were among the hardest-hit during the pandemic, but now, more students are looking for shorter-term, more career-focused education. This also includes trade and vocational schools and certificate programs.

SHAPIRO: The continuing trends suggest that students are still very focused on a return on investment through higher earnings and better jobs.

WOOJEONG LEE: Enrollment in four-year institutions also went up - another good sign, Shapiro says.

SHAPIRO: Last spring was the first time that they had even held steady after the two years of decline.

WOOJEONG LEE: Dual enrollment numbers have gone up for a third consecutive year. That's high school students taking college courses at the same time. Shapiro notes, however, that these numbers do not reflect the widespread confusion and delays this year in processing the federal financial aid form known as FAFSA.

SHAPIRO: I think students who really planned to go to college in the fall will get through the FAFSA, but I think for a lot of students who were maybe a little bit more on the fence about whether or not they wanted to go to college to begin with, my guess is many of them have probably already made other plans.

WOOJEONG LEE: As for how the FAFSA hurdles will affect next year's enrollment, he says, we'll just have to wait.

Janet Woojeong Lee, NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

Janet W. Lee
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