College enrollment in the U.S. is up for the first time since the COVID-19 pandemic.
Undergraduate enrollment grew 1.2% in the fall of 2023, an increase of 176,000 students, according to the National Student Clearinghouse Research Center.
“The number of students in college has finally turned the corner after years of decline,” said Doug Shapiro, executive director of the NSC Research Center, in a press release. “The small uptick this fall is a welcome change for higher education, but there are still over a million empty seats on campuses today that were filled five years ago.”
The highest growth was seen at community colleges, which gained 118,000 students in the fall, following a steep drop during the pandemic. More students are seeking out associate's degrees, which are offered in two-year programs.
“Students have been increasingly opting for shorter-term degrees and more vocational programs and vocational certificates,” Shapiro said, according to CNBC.
Both public and private colleges saw smaller bumps in enrollment.
Across the country, two-thirds of states experienced increases in college enrollment.
Freshman enrollment only grew by a small rate of 0.8%. There was only growth seen by older freshmen who were 21 and over, and none by freshmen 20 and younger.
Undergraduate enrollment increased in all ethnoracial categories except for White and Native American students.
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