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.