Four-Year Colleges with the Largest Enrollment Declines During COVID-19

Taylor Nichols Written by: Taylor Nichols
Published: November 30, 2021

Key Insights:

  • 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
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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

Florida

1,276 659 -617

-48.35%

Newman University

Kansas

2,705 1,577 -1,128

-41.70%

Concordia College - New York

New York

1,281 755 -526

-41.06%

University of Phoenix - California

California

3,756 2,392 -1,364

-36.32%

University of Bridgeport

Connecticut

3,233 2,350 -883

-27.31%

Edward Waters College

Florida

3,085 2,273 -812

-26.32%

California Institute of the Arts

California

1,021 762 -259

-25.37%

Texas Southern University

Texas

7,092 5,298 -1,794

-25.30%

Delta State University

Mississippi

3,109 2,331 -778

-25.02%

Livingstone College

North Carolina

1,122 845 -277

-24.69%

Maryland Institute College of Art

Maryland

1,749 1,331 -418

-23.90%

Henderson State University

Arkansas

3,430 2,626 -804

-23.44%

National American University

South Dakota

1,446 1,108 -338

-23.37%

Drury University - College of Continuing Professional Studies

Missouri

1,326 1,020 -306

-23.08%

New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary

Louisiana

1,090 839 -251

-23.03%

Yale University

Connecticut

6,092 4,703 -1,389

-22.80%

Ohio Christian University

Ohio

2,531 1,961 -570

-22.52%

Purdue University Fort Wayne

Indiana

9,697 7,584 -2,113

-21.79%

Baker College of Flint

Flint, MI

7,240 5,680 -1,560

-21.55%

Wesley College

Delaware

1,035 813 -222

-21.45%

Baker University

Kansas

1,672 1,335 -337

-20.16%

Chicago State University

Illinois

2,108 1,685 -423

-20.07%

Massachusetts College of Liberal Arts

Massachusetts

1,345 1,076 -269

-20.00%

Willamette University

Oregon

1,624 1,302 -322

-19.83%

Berkeley College Online

New York

2,954 2,376 -578

-19.57%

Johnson & Wales University - North Miami

Florida

Fall 2019 Enrollment: 1,276

Fall 2020 Enrollment: 659

Absolute Change: -617

Percent Change:-48.35%

Newman University

Kansas

Fall 2019 Enrollment: 2,705

Fall 2020 Enrollment: 1,577

Absolute Change: -1,128

Percent Change:--41.70%

Concordia College - New York

New York

Fall 2019 Enrollment: 1,281

Fall 2020 Enrollment: 755

Absolute Change: -526

Percent Change:-41.06%

University of Phoenix - California

California

Fall 2019 Enrollment: 3,756

Fall 2020 Enrollment: 2,392

Absolute Change: -1,364

Percent Change:-36.32%

University of Bridgeport

Connecticut

Fall 2019 Enrollment: 3,233

Fall 2020 Enrollment: 2,350

Absolute Change: -883

Percent Change:-27.31%

Edward Waters College

Florida

Fall 2019 Enrollment: 3,085

Fall 2020 Enrollment: 2,273

Absolute Change: -812

Percent Change:-26.32%

California Institute of the Arts

California

Fall 2019 Enrollment: 1,021

Fall 2020 Enrollment: 762

Absolute Change: -259

Percent Change:-25.37%

Texas Southern University

Texas

Fall 2019 Enrollment: 7,092

Fall 2020 Enrollment: 5,298

Absolute Change: -1,794

Percent Change:-25.30%

Delta State University

Mississippi

Fall 2019 Enrollment: 3,109

Fall 2020 Enrollment: 2,331

Absolute Change: -778

Percent Change:-25.02%

Livingstone College

North Carolina

Fall 2019 Enrollment: 1,122

Fall 2020 Enrollment: 845

Absolute Change: -277

Percent Change:-24.69%

Maryland Institute College of Art

Maryland

Fall 2019 Enrollment: 1,749

Fall 2020 Enrollment: 1,331

Absolute Change: -418

Percent Change:-23.90%

Henderson State University

Arkansas

Fall 2019 Enrollment: 3,430

Fall 2020 Enrollment: 2,626

Absolute Change: -804

Percent Change:-23.44%

National American University

South Dakota

Fall 2019 Enrollment: 1,446

Fall 2020 Enrollment: 1,108

Absolute Change: -338

Percent Change:-23.37%

Drury University - College of Continuing Professional Studies

Missouri

Fall 2019 Enrollment: 1,326

Fall 2020 Enrollment: 1,020

Absolute Change: -306

Percent Change:-23.08%

New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary

Louisiana

Fall 2019 Enrollment: 1,090

Fall 2020 Enrollment: 839

Absolute Change: -251

Percent Change:-23.03%

Yale University

Connecticut

Fall 2019 Enrollment: 6,092

Fall 2020 Enrollment: 4,703

Absolute Change: -1,389

Percent Change:-22.80%

Ohio Christian University

Ohio

Fall 2019 Enrollment: 2,531

Fall 2020 Enrollment: 1,961

Absolute Change: -570

Percent Change:-22.52%

Purdue University Fort Wayne

Indiana

Fall 2019 Enrollment: 9,697

Fall 2020 Enrollment: 7,584

Absolute Change: -2,113

Percent Change:-21.79%

Baker College of Flint

Flint, MI

Fall 2019 Enrollment: 7,240

Fall 2020 Enrollment: 5,680

Absolute Change: -1,560

Percent Change:-21.55%

Wesley College

Delaware

Fall 2019 Enrollment: 1,035

Fall 2020 Enrollment: 813

Absolute Change: -222

Percent Change:-21.45%

Baker University

Kansas

Fall 2019 Enrollment: 1,672

Fall 2020 Enrollment: 1,335

Absolute Change: -337

Percent Change:-20.16%

Chicago State University

Illinois

Fall 2019 Enrollment: 2,108

Fall 2020 Enrollment: 1,685

Absolute Change: -423

Percent Change:-20.07%

Massachusetts College of Liberal Arts

Massachusetts

Fall 2019 Enrollment: 1,345

Fall 2020 Enrollment: 1,076

Absolute Change: -269

Percent Change:-20.00%

Willamette University

Oregon

Fall 2019 Enrollment: 1,624

Fall 2020 Enrollment: 1,302

Absolute Change: -322

Percent Change:-19.83%

Berkeley College Online

New York

Fall 2019 Enrollment: 2,954

Fall 2020 Enrollment: 2,376

Absolute Change: -578

Percent Change:-19.57%

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

Tuition: $31,906

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

Tuition: $34,600

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

Tuition: $9,552

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

Tuition: $34,760

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

Tuition: $14,878

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

Tuition: $51,466

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

Tuition: $18,296

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.


Methodology

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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