Four-Year Colleges with the Largest Enrollment Declines During COVID-19
- The pandemic caused college students across the country to change higher education plans
- Community colleges and four-year universities both saw significant drops in enrollment for Fall 2020
- 25 mid-sized four-year schools saw at least a 20% drop in enrollment
Last fall, colleges across the country saw significant changes in enrollment due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Financial difficulties, changing responsibilities, and uncertainty about the future caused many students to rethink their college plans.
The latest college enrollment data from the National Student Clearinghouse Research Center shows schools nationwide continue to see a decline, with Fall enrollment down 3.2% from last year. While community colleges had the sharpest decline, four-year institutions also saw a significant drop in their enrollment numbers.
Newly released data on fall enrollment for 2020 show which four-year schools lost the highest rate of undergraduate students in the first quarter of the COVID-19 pandemic.
This list of the 25 four-year colleges with the sharpest enrollment declines includes:
- 16 private nonprofit universities
- Six public four-year colleges
- Three for-profit colleges
We limited our study to four-year colleges that had at least 1,000 students in fall 2019 to get a sense of how mid-sized universities were impacted by the pandemic.
Read: Four-Year Colleges with the Highest Enrollment Increases during COVID-19
Four-Year Colleges With the Sharpest Enrollment Declines in Fall 2020
|School Name||Fall 2019 Enrollment||Fall 2020 Enrollment||Absolute Change||Percent Change|
Johnson & Wales University - North Miami
Concordia College - New York
University of Phoenix - California
University of Bridgeport
Edward Waters College
California Institute of the Arts
Texas Southern University
Delta State University
Maryland Institute College of Art
Henderson State University
National American University
Drury University - College of Continuing Professional Studies
New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary
Ohio Christian University
Purdue University Fort Wayne
Baker College of Flint
Chicago State University
Massachusetts College of Liberal Arts
Berkeley College Online
These significant enrollment drops occurred largely at private colleges, which may reflect students opting to stay closer to home in response to the coronavirus pandemic or choosing more affordable options in-state. However, it's difficult to pinpoint the exact cause given the massive number of factors that impacted students' decisions on higher education during the pandemic.
Top 10 Four-Year Colleges with the Sharpest Declines During COVID-19
1. Johnson & Wales University - North Miami
Tuition: $33,404 for the 2020-21 school year
The North Miami campus of Johnson & Wales University saw a nearly 50% drop in enrollment. This is likely due to the university's June 2020 announcement that the small North Miami campus would close in 2021.
2. Newman University
Small four-year school Newman University in Kansas saw about a 42% drop in enrollment in Fall 2020. The school reported a total undergraduate enrollment of 1,577 for fall 2020, down from 2,705 the year before.
3. Concordia College - New York
Concordia College announced the closure of its New York campus in late January 2021 following a 41% drop in enrollment. The small college lost 526 students from 2019 to 2020. Iona College acquired the Bronxville, New York campus, providing an opportunity for most students to finish their degrees through Iona.
4. University of Phoenix - California
The California branch of the University of Phoenix saw an enrollment decline of 36% from pre-pandemic levels to fall 2020. While the mid-sized university had a sharp drop, the main Arizona branch only saw a 4.25% decline in the same time period.
5. University of Bridgeport
The University of Bridgeport in Connecticut had a 27% drop in student enrollment last year, with 883 fewer students enrolling from fall 2019 to 2020. The mid-sized university was reportedly struggling financially prior to the pandemic and announced its acquisition by three other schools in July 2020.
6. Edward Waters College
HBCU Edward Waters College, now Edward Waters University, lost 26% of its undergraduate students in Fall 2020. However, this year the small Florida university is reporting an enrollment surge with its largest incoming class on record.
7. California Institute of the Arts
CalArts' fall undergraduate enrollment dropped by 25% during the first fall semester of the pandemic. The small art institute saw 259 fewer students in 2020, down from just over 1,000 in fall 2019.
8. Texas Southern University
Tuition: $9,173 in-state
Mid-sized Texas Southern University had an enrollment decline of 25% from fall 2019 to 2020. Federal data shows 1,794 fewer undergraduate students enrolled than the year before. While TSU saw a steep drop, other universities in Houston reported enrollment increases.
9. Delta State University
Tuition: $7,671 in-state
Mississippi public institution Delta State University also saw a 25% drop in undergraduate enrollment. The small four-year university had 2,331 undergraduate students enrolled in fall 2020, compared to 3,109 the year before.
10. Livingstone College
Livingstone College in North Carolina had an enrollment decline just below 25% in fall 2020. The small college reported fall enrollment at 845 undergraduate students, down from 1,122 in 2019.
We limited our study to postsecondary institutions with at least 1,000 undergraduate students enrolled in Fall 2019 that graduated primarily baccalaureate students or higher in the 2018-19 and 2019-20 school years. Once these limitations were applied, the data resulted in a total of 1,294 schools. Enrollment numbers are for total undergraduate student enrollment in fall 2019 and fall 2020. All data comes from the U.S. Department of Education.
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