What the pandemic has done to regional public college enrollments


Regional public colleges have long been workhorses in their states, providing residents with affordable and accessible higher education. These institutions had already faced years of budget cuts and state underfunding, compared to flagship projects, and many regional public institutions were facing daunting demographic trends that predicted problems for the future. . What new challenges has the Covid-19 posed to them?

The Chronicle used preliminary federal data released last month to explore how the pandemic affected enrollment at regional public colleges. We analyzed fall 2020 and fall 2019 enrollment data from the National Center for Education Statistics at over 400 regional public institutions.

We have defined regional public colleges as four-year public institutions with the Carnegie classification of doctoral, master’s or bachelor’s degree. Doctoral universities with “very strong research activity” and flagships have been excluded.

Overwhelmingly, regional public colleges have seen a decline in full-time enrollment – nearly three in four institutions experienced declines between fall 2019 and fall 2020. Nationally, enrollment for this group institutions fell 2%, representing more than 65,000 students. Regional public colleges like Texas Southern University and Harris-Stowe State University in Missouri had some of the largest declines, reporting enrollment declines of 26% and 23%, respectively.

Our main findings are below.

Widespread decline in registrations

Only five states have experienced growth in their regional public institutions. Vermont and Alaska fared the worst, with regional public colleges in those states dropping 17% and 13%, respectively.

Big drops in first-year enrollment

In three out of four states, first-year regional public college enrollments declined more than full-time enrollments. Here are the states where the differences between the two were greatest.

Enrollment in regional colleges fell further than in flagship programs

More than two in three states have seen regional public college enrollment decline more than at leading institutions in those states. Here is where the biggest differences were.

The regional public colleges in the cities were the worst off

But the 23 regional public colleges in rural areas experienced the smallest enrollment declines.

Explore the data

Numbers represent full-time enrollments.

To note: Regional public institutions were defined as public degree-granting institutions eligible to participate in federal Title IV financial aid programs, located in the United States and having a Carnegie classification of one of the following:
Doctoral universities: High research activity, Doctoral / professional universities (very high research establishments and flagship establishments have been excluded); Master’s colleges and universities: larger programs, medium programs, small programs; Baccalaureate Colleges: Institution Arts & Sciences Focus or Various Fields. Enrollment figures are for the total number of full-time students, and first-year enrollments are for first-time full-time undergraduates seeking a degree in the fall semester.


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