This blog post is a follow-up to an overview of enrollment trends in Texas posted last fall, which was limited to data through fall 2019. The Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board (THECB) recently published an updated report, Enrollment Forecast 2021-2035: Texas Institutions in Higher Education that provides not only projections for the next 15 years, but also provided preliminary actual enrollment figures for fall 2020 by campus.
The National Student Clearinghouse’s (NSC) Research Center also updated its outlook on the national enrollment landscape for fall 2020. The NSC’s December 2020 report shows that “Overall postsecondary enrollments declined 2.5% in fall 2020, nearly twice the rate of enrollment decline reported in fall 2019,” as “undergraduate enrollment was the primary driver for this decline, decreasing 3.6 percent or over 560,200 students from 2019” (NSC). Broken down by institutional sector, the NSC’s estimates show that public 4-year institutions actually grew slightly by 0.2% from fall 2019 to fall 2020, as most of that growth can be attributed to an increase in graduate/professional enrollment (4.6% increase), while undergraduate enrollment at 4-year public universities fell slightly (-0.7%). The institutional sector with the largest loss from fall 2019 to fall 2020 was public 2-year campuses, which collectively saw an estimated 10.1% decrease in enrollment from 2019 to 2020.
In light of these broader national estimates of declines in higher education enrollment, this post will examine the enrollment trends at public universities in Texas through fall 2020, as well as present the projected enrollment forecasts published by the THECB.
NOTE: One of the limitations of the THECB Enrollment Forecast document is that it only includes overall headcounts at statewide and university levels. Therefore, the data below are not disaggregated beyond institutional/statewide totals.
STATEWIDE TRENDS: 2015-2020
While the NSC data presented above showed a very slight increase in public 4-year institutional enrollment from 2019 to 2020, Texas public universities saw a larger collective increase in student enrollment during the first fall semester within the COVID-19 environment. As can be seen in the first visualization below (labeled STATEWIDE 2020 on the tabs at the top of the visualization), statewide enrollment at public universities increased from 657,985 in fall 2019 to 667,072 in fall 2020, which represents a 1.4% gain in enrollment. This increase also reversed a one-year dip in university-wide enrollment across the state, as there was a 234 headcount drop from fall 2018 to fall 2019. As can be seen in the “Change in THECB Enrollment by University: 2015 to 2020” table below the set of visualizations, Texas has almost 48,000 more students enrolled at public 4-year institutions in fall 2020 compared with fall 2015, which represents a 7.74% increase.
SYSTEM-WIDE TRENDS: 2015-2020
If you click on the tab labeled “SYSTEMS 2020” next to the “STATEWIDE 2020″ tab, you will see enrollment figures broken down by the six public university systems in Texas, plus the collection of Public Independent universities. The UT System’s 228,111 enrollment in fall 2020 is an increase of just over 20,000 students since 2015, which equates to a 9.9% increase. The Texas A&M University System is next with almost 150,000 students enrolled in fall 2020, as the almost 9,000 headcount increase since 2015 is a 6.4% growth rate. The largest percentage increase in the public university systems has been at the Texas Tech System, which surpassed the 50,000 student mark in 2020, and has seen a 14.1% increase since 2015. A portion of the growth in the TTU System has been in the expansion of dual credit enrolled students at Angelo State University, which increased from 67 dual credit students in 2014 to 2,978 students in fall 2019. The UNT System also saw a double-digit percentage increase from 2015 to 2020, moving from 39.7K to 44.8K students for a 13.1% increase.
UNIVERSITY TRENDS: 2015-2020
The table below the visualization shows enrollment trends by each public university in Texas, grouped by system affiliation, and sorted from highest-to-lowest percentage change within each system. Overall, Texas A&M University experienced the highest numeric increase from fall 2015 to fall 2020 of any public university in Texas, going from 58,515 students in 2015 to 65,272 in 2020, which represents an 11.6% increase. UT Arlington and UT San Antonio also saw numeric growth in excess of 5,000 students, as the University of Houston, UT Dallas, and Texas Tech experienced more than 4,000-student gains from 2015 to 2020. Out of the 37 institutions listed by the THECB, 16 of the universities experienced double-digit percentage growth from 2015 to 2020. The highest percentage increase was at UNT Dallas, which grew from 2,488 in 2015 to 4,190 in 2020, a 68.4% change. Texas A&M-San Antonio had a 47.7% increase from 4,564 to 6,741, and Angelo State University increased by 25.7% from 8,343 to 10,489.
While the year-over-year enrollments by university are not shown in the table, there is a succession of tabs at to the top of the visualizations that group public universities in Texas by enrollment bands (i.e., “<5K”, “5K-10K”, “10K-15K”, etc.). Clicking on the tabs will show the university-level enrollment trends from 2015 to 2020.
The THECB’s Enrollment Forecast document includes actual enrollment figures for fall 2015 and fall 2020 to provide recent historical context, and then includes annual projections through 2025 before jumping to five-year increments to 2030 and 2035. In the methodology section of the report (page 26), the THECB indicates that they used a combination of historical enrollment data, population projections, institutions’ policies, and location conditions to create the multi-year projections.
STATEWIDE TRENDS: 2015-2035
The line chart under the first tab, “STATEWIDE 2035“, shows that the THECB projects the statewide enrollment at public 4-year institutions to exceed 800,000 students by 2035. This increase of 133,820 from 2020 to 2035 represents a gain of just over 20% in the next 14 years in Texas. From 2020 to 2025, the projected enrollment growth statewide is estimated to be approximately 7.7% from 667,072 in 2020 to 718,441 in 2025. The five-year increment from 2025 to 2030 is estimated to be a slightly slower growth rate of 5.3% from 718,441 to 756,218, with an uptick to 5.9% growth from 756,218 in 2030 to 800,892 in 2035.
SYSTEM-WIDE TRENDS: 2015-2035
Projected enrollment trends for the public university systems can be found under the “SYSTEMS 2035” tab. While the UT System and the Texas A&M System are projected to maintain leads in enrollment over the other systems, the UH System and the UNT System are projected to have the highest percentage gains in enrollment through 2035. The UT System is expected to grow by more than 40,000 students from 2020 to 2035, which would represent a 17.7% growth rate. The A&M System is projected to show a slightly higher percentage growth at 18.7%, with an increase of almost 28,000 students by 2035. The THECB projects the UH System to grow from 76,283 in 2020 to 102,984 in 2035, which represents a 35% increase in total student enrollment, while the UNT System is projected to have a 21.5% increase to almost 55,000 students in 2035.
UNIVERSITY TRENDS: 2015-2020
As with the table above, the “Change in THECB Enrollment by University: 2020 to 2035” table below the set of visualizations shows enrollment projections by each public university in Texas, grouped by system affiliation, and sorted from highest-to-lowest percentage change within each system. Based on the THECB projections, there would be a series of shifts in the enrollment rankings in Texas if the forecasts are accurate. At the top, Texas A&M University is projected to maintain its largest-campus status by increasing enrollment from just over 65,000 in 2020 to almost 78,000 in 2035. UT Austin is projected to remain flat through 2035, which would shift UT Austin from second-largest to fourth-largest campus in Texas. Driving the UH System growth of a projected 35% by 2035 is the University of Houston’s projected growth of over 19,000 students, which, if achieved, would push UH to become the second-largest university with more than 66,000 students in 2035. UT Arlington is also projected to eclipse UT Austin’s enrollment by 2035, as UT Arlington is projected to grow by 12,293 students from 42,733 in 2020 to 55,026 in 2035, a 28.8% increase. The other institution that is projected to have enrollment growth exceeding 10,000 students is UT Dallas, which would be the second-fastest growing university if it achieved the projected growth of 16,748 students from 28,669 in 2020 to 45,417 in 2035.
While the year-over-year enrollments by university are not shown in the table, these visualizations also include a succession of tabs at to the top that group public universities in Texas by enrollment bands (i.e., “<5K”, “5K-10K”, “10K-15K”, etc.). Clicking on the tabs will show the university-level enrollment trends from 2015 to 2020.
With so many unknowns surrounding the effects of COVID-19 on colleges and universities, one of the biggest concerns has been related to what student enrollment in fall 2020 would look like. Even at the national level, the slight increase at public 4-year institutions could be viewed as somewhat of a surprise and an encouraging outcome. Within Texas public universities, the growth from 2019 to 2020 exceeded the national estimates by increasing 1.4%. While the THECB has not published enrollment numbers broken down by academic level and other demographic variables (as of posting of this blog), it will be interesting to see if the national trends that showed graduate student enrollment increases making up for drops in undergraduate enrollment hold true within Texas.
The THECB’s enrollment projections are important for a number of reasons, many of which are contained within the strategic planning processes that occur at the state, system, and institution levels. Universities and systems can use these projections to support establishing enrollment goals in the near- (5 years) and long-term (15 years), as well as projecting fiscal allocations to meet the growing demands and expectations of four-year higher education institutions in Texas. Additionally, what the 20% growth projection statewide does show is that Texas is likely to continue to increase its positioning as a leader in population growth, high school graduates, and college graduates, all of which contribute to Texas being a first-choice destination for business and industry expansion and relocation for years to come.