U.S. College Enrollment Hits Two-Decade Low in 2020

U.S. college enrollment dropped to the lowest level in almost two decades last year, as the pandemic shut down schools and persuaded students to put their academic plans on hold rather than pay large sums to attend online-only classes.

As of October, 62.7% of high school graduates in the class of 2020 were enrolled in colleges or universities, the smallest share since 2001 and down from 66.2% in 2019, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics reported on Tuesday.

U.S. College Enrollment Hits Two-Decade Low in 2020

It’s been more than a year since schools sent students home to prevent the spread of the Covid-19 virus. Most colleges held some form of virtual classes instead, and those with in-person instruction often imposed a restrictive environment to keep students safe. The industry has taken a financial hit, though there are signs that applications will bounce back in 2021.

About 2 million of the 3.1 million high-school grads of 2020 signed up for college. Asian-Americans had the highest enrollment rate, at 83%, compared with 63% for Whites and a few percentage points lower for Black and Hispanic students.

The gender gap at college widened in 2020, extending a longer-term trend. Among men, the enrollment rate slumped to the lowest since at least 1993, at 59%. For women the rate was 66% -- still the lowest since 2006. The BLS data is based on the monthly Current Population Survey, which covers about 60,000 households.

If more high-school graduates found themselves stuck at home in 2020 instead of heading off for a college adventure, the same was true of the age group just above them.

A separate study by the U.S. Census Bureau found that the share of men aged between 25 and 34 who were living in the parental home jumped to 22% -- the most in data going back 60 years. For women the figure was slightly lower, but still the highest percentage since 1960.

©2021 Bloomberg L.P.

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