Trends in Community College Enrollment

Recently, the National Student Clearinghouse’s (NSC) Research Center published its “Current Term Enrollment Estimates” for spring 2023. Across all higher education sectors, total enrollment nationally fell by 0.5% from spring 2022 to spring 2023. Public 4-year institutions saw a 0.8% decline in enrollments from spring 2022 to 2023, while public 2-year institutions saw a 0.5% increase with 22,000 more students enrolled in spring 2023 versus spring 2022. This is the second-consecutive NSC term enrollment estimate that showed public 2-year colleges increasing, as total enrollment was up 0.4% from fall 2021 to fall 2022. These enrollment increases at public 2-year campuses followed pandemic-related drops of 10.5% in fall 2020 and 6.7% in fall 2021. This national picture provides a backdrop for our summer blog series that will look at trends in enrollment, persistence, transfer, and graduation at public community colleges in Texas. 

Enrollment Trends at Texas Public Community Colleges

In May, the Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board (THECB) published certified enrollment data for fall 2022. Across all institutional sectors, Texas higher education saw a 0.3% increase in enrollment from 1,359,987 in fall 2021 to 1,364,635 in fall 2022. This increase reversed the two-year trend of overall declines in enrollment in fall 2020 and fall 2021. Even with this increase, the fall 2022 total enrollment remained more than 90K students (or 6.2%) below the all-time high enrollment of 1,455,022 that was tallied in fall 2019.

Similar to the national trends, the public 2-year college sector in Texas has seen the greatest losses following the onset of the pandemic in spring 2020. As shown in the figure below, public community colleges in Texas experienced a drop of almost 109K students (15%) from fall 2019 (748,478) to fall 2021 (639,546). The largest single-year change occurred in fall 2020, with almost 84K fewer students enrolled in Texas public community colleges than were enrolled in fall 2019. Prior to 2020, enrollment at Texas community colleges had risen from 693,791 in fall 2014 to a peak of 748,478 in 2019 for an overall gain of 17%. The uptick in enrollment of almost 3,000 (from 639,546 to 642,290) students in fall 2022 represented an increase of 0.4%, which mirrors the national average gain seen in the NSC data. 

Annual Enrollment Changes at Texas Public Community Colleges
In fall 2022, Texas public community colleges experienced their first annual gain since 2019.

So What?

During the past decade, 6 out of every 10 undergraduate students enrolled at public universities in Texas have earned semester credit hours (SCH) at a 2-year college in Texas. Whether measured by enrollment, retention, transfer, or graduation, the success of Texas public universities is inextricably linked to the success of Texas public community colleges. Throughout the course of this blog series, we will dig deeper into data from various sources to better understand trends at public community colleges and explore the implications of these trends on public universities in Texas.

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