Dive Brief:

  • Slightly more than half of nearly 300 college presidents surveyed in September by the American Council on Education (ACE) say their campuses’ enrollment is lower this fall than a year ago, with community college executives reporting decreases the most.
  • Thirty-one percent of private four-year college presidents said they enrolled more students this fall, compared to 15% of public four-year and 10% of public two-year leaders. 
  • Some 70% of four-year college execs reported decreased international student enrollment.

Dive Insight:

The share of college presidents reporting enrollment decreases this fall (55%) matches projections across all institution types. An ACE survey in July polling 270 presidents found 52% were expecting declines. However, a slightly larger percentage of private four-year and public two-year presidents expected their fall enrollment to stay the same than reported it did in the September survey.

More than a third (37%) of respondents across all institutions said enrollment fell 5% or less this fall, and the same share said it fell between 6% and 10%. Just 1% said it fell by 31% or more.

Preliminary data from the National Student Clearinghouse Research Center similarly showed modest decreases in fall enrollment, with community colleges taking the biggest hit. That could be because two-year schools tend to enroll more low-income and underrepresented students, groups the pandemic has disproportionately impacted, one analyst told Education Dive. 

Presidents responding to the most recent ACE survey pointed to decreases in international students, the move to remote instruction, individuals’ financial hardships and COVID-19 health concerns as likely drivers of enrollment declines. 

Those who said enrollment increased credited the use of enrollment management tools, more financial aid and tuition discounts, and expanded online program offerings, ACE noted.

Most presidents reported increased spending across several categories, including technology, cleaning and financial aid, while just 18% said tuition revenue increased and 11% said the same of fees. 

In response, 61% said they are freezing hiring and another 20% may do so in the next year. More than half (54%) said they froze pay, with 23% potentially doing so within a year. The vast majority (88%) don’t plan to “review tenured relationships,” while 63% said they don’t plan to cut employee pay.

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