New Students at U.S. Colleges Decline, Worsening Campus Crisis

U.S. colleges are seeing sharp declines in enrollment of new students this semester in another sign of the economic toll that Covid-19 is having on higher education.

The number of first-year undergraduate students enrolled fell 16%, theNational Student Clearinghouse Research Center said in a report Thursday. Total undergraduate enrollment slid 4% from last year at this time, led by international students.

Empty seats are inflicting financial damage on colleges already reeling from the pandemic. Earlier this year, when the virus began spreading, many schools cleared their campuses of students and refunded housing costs. With enrollment waning, revenue from tuition, dormitories and dining halls is being hurt at a time when some institutions are posting low endowment returns.

“The colleges are losing billions of dollars,” said Jack Maguire, founder of the enrollment-consulting firmMaguire Associates and former dean of admissions atBoston College. “It may not be the end of it if this new waves hits and students are sent home again.”

The drop in international undergraduates is among the deepest, at 13.7%. In July, the Trump administration introduced a federal rule that would have required foreign students at U.S. universities to take at least one in-person class or risk deportation if schools switched to online only. While theguidelines were quickly rescinded, international students still struggle with travel restrictions and visa issues.

Undergraduate enrollment is down at all types of institutions except private for-profit colleges, according to Research Center data collected in the semester through Sept. 24.

First-year undergraduate student enrollment fell 13.7% at public four-year colleges and 11.8% at their private nonprofit counterparts. It slid 22.7% at community colleges.

Nationally, the Midwest saw the steepest decline, at 5.7%. Schools in the region have enrolled fewer students in the last several years, largely because of demographic trends.

The National Student Clearinghouse Research Center collects data from more than 3,600 post-secondary institutions. The study accounts for about 9.2 million students, or almost 54% of post-secondary institutions reporting. Full data are expected later this year.

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