College enrollment across Wisconsin fell 3 percent, according to new report

Total enrollment across Wisconsin colleges and universities fell about 3 percent this fall, according to preliminary data from the National Student Clearinghouse Research Center. Researchers say the decline in national enrollment has slowed to pre-pandemic levels, but they were surprised by the lack of a rebound.

The “Stay Informed” report from the Clearinghouse found that fall enrollment across all public and private colleges in Wisconsin as of Sept. 29 was down 3.1 percent from the same time last year. While still negative, this year’s decline was less than the 4.1 percent fall in fall 2021.

Since 2020, enrollment at universities in the state has dropped by nearly 7.8 percent.

National Student Clearinghouse Research Center Executive Research Director Doug Shapiro said colleges in the Midwest and Northeast participated experienced larger declines than the rest of the nation.

“That kind of suggests a return to pre-pandemic patterns of essentially demographic trends where we had seen some declines based on fewer high school graduates in the Midwest and Northeast,” Shapiro said.

Within the upper Midwest, enrollment in Iowa and Illinois fell by about 1 percent, while Michigan saw a drop of just more than 4 percent this fall. Minnesota enrollment information was not included in the report due to a low response rate from institutions in the state.

Nationally, the number of students in college dropped about 1.1 percent this fall. That’s consistent with preliminary fall data from the University of Wisconsin System, which shows an average decline of about 1 percent across the state’s 13 universities and 13 department campuses.

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Since the beginning of the​​​​pandemic, enrollment at national colleges has fallen by 3.2 percent, while enrollment at the UW System has fallen by only about 2 percent over the same period.

“I certainly wouldn’t call this a recovery,” Shapiro said. “We’re seeing smaller declines. But when you’re in a deep hole, digging just a little bit further isn’t really good news.”

There were some bright spots in the research center’s latest data. Total freshman enrollment at two-year community and technical colleges “appears to have stabilized for the first time since the start of the pandemic,” according to the report. Over the past two years, enrollment at two-year colleges has dropped by double digits.

“A big part of the results for community colleges this fall is a big increase in dual enrollment,” Shapiro said. “Dual enrollment high school students increased by 11.5 percent at community colleges this fall compared to last fall.”

Fall 2022 dual enrollment data for Wisconsin technical colleges and universities is not yet available, but over the past decade, the number of high school students taking courses on state campuses has increased significantly.

Between the 2011-12 and 2020-21 academic years, the number of Wisconsin high school students taking dual credit courses at state technical schools increased by 135 percent.

During the same period, the number of high school students taking classes at UW System schools increased by 228 percent.

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