Students walk on the campus of the University of Southern California in Los Angeles, California, the United States, June 3, 2019. (Photo/Xinhua)
Undergraduate enrollment at U.S. colleges and universities declined by 1.1 percent last year, according to data released by a research center.
Data from the National Student Clearinghouse show enrollment dropped by 3.4 percent when the COVID-19 pandemic hit in 2020.
The declining rate appeared to slow down: the decrease rate was 2.1 percent in 2021, while the rate in 2022 is half of that.
Over the past two years, the 3.2 percent decline means that U.S. colleges and universities had more than 1 million fewer undergraduates.
Meanwhile, graduate enrollment also declined by 1 percent, reversing the trend of last year's gain of 2.7 percent. This may signal the end of a pandemic-induced influx of graduate students, according to the report.
The data are based on an analysis of 10.3 million students from 62 percent of degree-granting higher education institutions, as of Sept 29.
However, enrollment in highly competitive institutions, both public and private, enjoyed a slight increase last year.
For example, the University of Texas at Austin admitted 9,109 first-time first-year undergraduates, its largest-ever incoming class. That brought the total enrollment to a record high of 52,384.
In the neighboring state, the University of Arkansas in Little Rock saw its 2022 fall enrollment drop by 2.7 percent, while its campus in Pine Bluff saw a drop of 7 percent.
The drop in the declining rate doesn't mean the trend is being reversed. "I certainly wouldn't call this a recovery," Doug Shapiro, vice-president and executive director at the research center of the National Student Clearinghouse, told National Public Radio. "We're seeing smaller declines. But when you're in a deep hole, the fact that you're only digging a tiny bit further is not really good news."
The decline of international students in U.S. higher education institutions during the pandemic likely contributed to the drop. While 2022 data aren't available yet, data from the Institution of International Education showed that last year international student enrollment in the U.S. dropped by 15 percent.
China, the top source of international students in the U.S., made up 35 percent of last year's total, followed by India at 18 percent, and South Korea at 4 percent. International students comprised 4.6 percent of total enrollment at U.S. higher education institutions.
Last year, the number of Chinese college students in the U.S. decreased by more than 55,000, from the historical high of 372,532 in 2019-2020 to 317,299 in 2020-2021. That led to the number of international students falling below 1 million in 2020-2021, lowest since 2014-15.
Chinese student enrollment in U.S. institutions likely fell further in 2022. Data showed that in the first six months, the number of F-1 visas issued to Chinese students dropped by more than 50 percent to 31,055 compared to 64,261 issued in the first six months of 2019.