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California has the largest drop in spring college enrollment numbers in the nation

Colleen Shalby, Los Angeles Times on

Published in News & Features

LOS ANGELES – California leads the nation with the largest drop in spring 2021 college enrollment numbers largely due to a steep decline in community college students, who have particularly struggled with pandemic hardships, according to a report released Thursday.

The state's overall community college and university headcount dropped by about 123,000 students — the largest numeric decrease of any state. The percentage decline was5.3%The numeric downturn reflects California's stature as the most populous state, but does not account for the entirety of the loss, researchers said.

College enrollment across the nation dropped by3.5% — or about 603,000 students — from spring 2020 to spring 2021, marking the biggest decline on record with the National Student Clearinghouse Research Center, which has tracked higher education enrollment and degree data since 2011. The calculation takes into account a decline of undergraduates and an increase in graduate students, the report by the organization says.

"California is doing worse than the national averages by 1 or 2 percentage points in terms of the declines this spring compared with last," said Doug Shapiro, executive director of the organization.

The decline in community college students accounts for a large majority of California's loss, which is in keeping with a national trend as community college enrollment was hardest hit by the pandemic. About 476,000 students, or 65% of the spring's total national undergraduate enrollment losses, occurred in the community college sector, the report said.

The spring losses at California's community colleges follow a similar trend in fall 2020, when enrollments dropped 12% compared to fall 2019. Additionally, students had to make spring semester registrations as the state experienced its largest and most devastating surge in COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations.


"The pandemic disrupted students' lives in a myriad of ways that made it difficult or impossible for many of them to continue with their college educations," said Paul Feist, spokesperson for the California Community College Chancellor Eloy Ortiz Oakley. Feist described the host of hardships that confronted students.

According to a state community college student survey, 41% faced a change in employment during the pandemic; about 19% had their work hours reduced and 22% were laid off or furloughed, Feist said. More than half of students reported their income decreased. About 57% faced basic needs insecurity — a group that was disproportionately made up of students of color.

New Mexico saw the biggest percentage decline in college and university enrollment, at 11.4%; Michigan was among the top five states with a 6.4% drop. When assessing the country by region, the South saw the smallest decline in enrollment at 1.9%. The West was next with a 3.7% decrease, followed by the Northeast with a 4% drop and the Midwest with a 4.1% decline.

Seven states — New Hampshire, Utah, West Virginia, Nebraska, Virginia, Idaho and Maryland — saw increased enrollment.


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