IHE Enrollment Trends in Texas

While institutions of higher education (IHE) have long held concerns regarding student enrollment, the uncertainty surrounding the effects of COVID-19 on not only beginning-of-semester student enrollment this fall, but also student persistence throughout the semester, has heightened many concerns at colleges and universities. Based on preliminary data published recently by the National Student Clearinghouse (NSC), undergraduate enrollment across the United States is down 4.4 percent when comparing fall 2020 to fall 2019 enrollment, while graduate enrollment is up 2.9 percent. The NSC report stated that postsecondary enrollment nationally is 3.3 percent lower overall across all institutional levels (two-year colleges and four-year universities) and types (public, private nonprofit, and private for-profit).

Closer to home, the Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board (THECB) is in the process of certifying CBM reports from public colleges and universities in order to release official enrollment data for fall 2020. Once published, we will be posting a blog entry that will examine statewide and institution-level data to explore the extent to which COVID-19 has affected enrollment at Texas public IHEs. To contextualize that forthcoming discussion, this blog post reviews recent enrollment data and trends for both 2-year and 4-year institutions, specifically highlighting the tremendous enrollment growth Texas colleges and universities have seen in the demographic consisting of Hispanic female students. 

Growth in undergraduates; graduate enrollment falling off

The interactive visualizations below disaggregate enrollment profiles for all public universities by classification levels (undergraduate and graduate) and race/ethnicity categories, while the community college visualization breaks down enrollment by race/ethnicity categories. All data were downloaded from the THECB’s Accountability System Interactive Portal. As seen in the visualizations, undergraduate enrollment at both the 2-year and 4-year institutions saw steady growth from fall 2014 to fall 2019 across the public colleges and universities in Texas. Statewide undergraduate enrollment at public universities increased by 11.2 percent from 474,771 in 2014 to 528,117 in 2019. Enrollment statewide at public two-year institutions increased by 7.9 percent from 693,791 to 748,478 during the same time period. 

While enrollment has grown overall, not all demographic segments of the student population have seen increases. By far the largest gaining group overall are Hispanic students, whose numbers increased at both public colleges and universities in the tens of thousands. At 4-year institutions, just over 42,000 more Hispanic students were enrolled in 2019 as were enrolled in 2014, an increase of 26.7 percent in six years. African American student enrollment also increased, growing from 59,364 in 2014 to 63,379 in 2019. By contrast, White undergraduate students peaked in 2016 before falling by more than 9,000 students in 2019 for a six-year decrease of 3.9 percent. Fall 2018 saw Hispanic undergraduate students surpass white students as the highest representation group at public universities. The enrollment gap between the two groups widened to more than 16,000 students in fall 2019, as Hispanic students represented 38.1 percent of all university undergraduates, compared to 35.3 percent White students. At the two-year college level, Hispanic student enrollment grew at an even greater clip, with an increase of 27.3 percent from 2014 to 2019. African American and White student enrollment decreased by 4.3 percent and 9.9 percent, respectively.

At the graduate school level, enrollment at public universities followed a pyramid shape from 2014 to 2019. After seeing increases in the first-half of the time period, graduate student enrollment dropped off to almost where it started, registering an overall increase of 1,041 students for an 0.8 percent gain. As with the other academic levels, Hispanic student enrollment increased, while other demographic areas dropped. The 5,004 headcount gain in Hispanic graduate students (21.9 percent) was the primary reason that the overall graduate enrollment in Texas’s public universities did not decrease from 2014 to 2019. African American graduate student enrollment also increased, growing from 13,732 to 14,570, a 6.1 percent increase.  Although White graduate student enrollment dropped off slightly from 51.7K to 50.6K, the largest decrease at the graduate level was seen in the International student population, which fell by almost 6,200 students, a 20.4 percent decrease. Although the THECB does not currently publish international enrollment by country for each educational level (undergraduate and graduate), the overall largest declines by country from 2014 to 2019 were student enrollments from India (2,335 decrease from 11,976 to 9,641; -19.5 percent); China (1,132 decrease from 7,642 to 6,507; -14.9 percent); and Saudi Arabia (672 decrease from 1,376 to 704; -48.8 percent). 

Changing Demographics of Higher Education in Texas

A deeper dive into the changing demographic makeup of higher education in Texas shows just how precipitous the growth in the Hispanic student enrollment has been, especially with regard to the Hispanic female population. In order to contextualize this enrollment growth, the population estimates from the Texas Demographic Center (TDC) were aggregated for the 18-29 year-old demographic, as this age range captures almost 90 percent of undergraduate enrollment and more than 55 percent of graduate enrollment at public universities in Texas.

In 2014, the TDC estimated there were 1,015,228 Hispanic females between the ages of 18 and 29 residing in Texas, and that number had risen to 1,087,060 in 2019, representing an increase of 71,832 or 7.1 percent. At both public colleges and universities, the increase in enrollment of Hispanic female students far exceeded the percentage increase of the population that falls within the college-going ages of 18-29. At public community colleges, the visualization below shows that there were almost 49K more Hispanic female students enrolled in 2019 than in 2014, an increase of 30.1 percent in six years. The 31K enrollment increase at public universities was almost equal to the growth at two-year institutions with a growth rate of 29.9 percent. The 30-percent increases for Hispanic female student enrollment at both two- and four-year institutions is more than quadruple the growth rate of college-aged (18-29 year-old) Hispanic females in Texas during the same time period. 

Hispanic male student enrollment also saw impressive growth from 2014 to 2019, especially in comparison to the changes in the general population of 18-29 year-old Texas residents. In 2014, the TDC estimated there were 1,129,445 Hispanic males in the 18-29 age demographic living in Texas, a number that grew to 1,142,978 by 2019, a 1.2 percent increase. A comparison to the visualization below shows that Hispanic male student enrollment at community colleges in Texas grew by almost 27K students from 2014 to 2019, a 23.3 percent increase. At public universities in Texas, the Hispanic male student enrollment increased by almost 17K students, which represented a 21.1 percent growth rate from 2014 to 2019. When compared to the just over 1-percent increase in the 18-29 year-old Hispanic male population in Texas, the more than 20-percent increases in Hispanic male student enrollment from 2014 to 2019 are almost 18-times higher than the general population growth. 

So What?

As the data above show, higher education in Texas has been in a period of transition demographically. When comparing 2019 enrollment data from THECB to the estimated population of 18-29 year-olds in Texas from the TDC, the representation is fairly close in most race/ethnicity categories. For example, White students represented 35.3 percent of all undergraduates enrolled in Texas public universities, which was almost identical to the estimated 35.4 percent of the population aged 18-29 who were categorized as being White by the TDC. Even with the Hispanic student enrollment growth shown above, Hispanic students (39.5 percent of the undergraduate enrollment) were slightly underrepresented when compared to the TDC’s estimated 43.8 percent of the 18-29 population who were categorized as Hispanic. The Asian student undergraduate enrollment of 8.9 percent was slightly overrepresented when compared to the estimated 5.1 percent of the 18-29 population categorized by TDC as Asian. African American students comprised 13.1 percent of undergraduate enrollments in 2019, which was very close to the estimated 13.2 percent of African Americans within the 18-29 year-old population.

If TDC projections are accurate and enrollment continues to follow closely those projections, by the time the majority of kindergarteners who started public school this fall graduate from high school in 2033, the demographic mixture of undergraduate enrollment at public universities would be approximately 45-percent Hispanic, 30-percent White, 13-percent African American, 8-percent Asian, and 4-percent Other. This composition would mean that almost 60 percent of university undergraduate enrollment in Texas would consist of students from demographic groups that have traditionally been considered part of the historically underserved student (HUS) population, a student segment that has typically experienced lower persistence and graduation rates than their non-HUS counterparts. Understanding current demographic enrollment patterns in the context of future population projections is important for higher education in Texas, as institutions, systems, and the state of Texas make decisions regarding the strategic allocation of resources in the years to come. 

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