Why Fewer Undergraduates Are Enrolling in College

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Students in a class at San Jose State University. (Photo: Jessica Olthof/San Jose State University)

Before the pandemic took hold, some higher education institutions -- particularly community colleges and small or mid-sized private schools -- were struggling with declining enrollment and financial problems. And those challenges became far worse during the shutdown. By Spring 2021, the total number of undergraduates fell by five percent from 2020 — 727,000 students in all — according to the National Student Clearinghouse Research Center. Educators and policymakers say the drop indicates that many would-be college students are struggling to access or afford college— even if a degree could help them advance economically. We talk about these enrollment challenges and how they can be addressed.


Lynn Mahoney, president, San Francisco State University

Falone Serna, vice president for enrollment management, Whittier College, a private college in Southern California

David Scobey, director, Bringing Theory to Practice, a national initiative that works to renew the core purposes of undergraduate education

Laura Szabo-Kubitz, California affordability program director, The Institute for College Access and Success, an organization that promotes affordability, accountability, and equity in higher education