Markets in Focus

Higher Education

Q2 2022

Markets in Focus  |  Higher Education Higher Education Q2 2022

The pandemic created significant challenges for American colleges and universities. Between the fall 2019 and spring 2022 semesters, undergraduate enrollment dropped by 6.6%, or over a million students. Community colleges enrollment declined in that time period by a staggering 13%.¹ The nation’s under-18 population had already been declining — from 74.2 million in 2010 to 73.1 million in 2020² — and the overall share of 18-24 year-olds enrolled in college declined from 41.3% in 2009 to 40.7% in 2019.³

Like many aspects of the American economy, these changes can be told as a story of haves and have-nots. Elite universities saw steady enrollment and soaring endowments throughout the pandemic,4 while community colleges are still struggling to maintain numbers, and some small, regionally-focused private 4-year colleges were forced to close or merge. The latest casualties are Ohio Valley University, which shut its doors for the spring 2022 semester, and Mills College, one of the last extant women’s only schools, which is set to be acquired by Northeastern later this year and become co-ed.5

One bright spot is the return to in-person classes for the spring semester, with over 90% of colleges and universities welcoming students back to campus.6 Whether this move persists will partly depend on external public health factors, but also on universities’ appetite for learning to live with COVID, as many have advocated.7

1 https://www.npr.org/2022/01/13/1072529477/more-than-1-million-fewer-students-are-in-college-the-lowest-enrollment-numbers-
2 https://www.census.gov/library/stories/2021/08/united-states-adult-population-grew-faster-than-nations-total-population-from-2010-to-2020.html
3 https://nces.ed.gov/programs/digest/d20/tables/dt20_302.60.asp?current=yes
4 https://www.forbes.com/sites/michaeltnietzel/2021/10/15/elite-university-endowments-soar-to-record-highs/?sh=c8d184d2d5f6
5 https://www.highereddive.com/news/how-many-colleges-and-universities-have-closed-since-2016/539379/
6 https://www.insidehighered.com/news/2022/01/06/colleges-resuming-person-classes-amid-omicron
7 https://www.economist.com/briefing/2021/10/16/how-the-world-learns-to-live-with-covid-19