Postsecondary enrollment plateaus – 64,000 fewer students enrolled since pandemic

A graph showing the decline in postsecondary enrollment between 2019 and 2023.


After three years of steep declines, postsecondary enrollment has plateaued in Washington state. An estimated 64,000 fewer students enrolled in Washington’s public postsecondary institutions in fall 2023 compared to fall 2019, representing a 21% decline over the four-year period. According to data shared with the Washington Roundtable by the state’s public postsecondary institutions:

  • At Washington’s public four-year institutions, fall 2023 enrollment is down 12.3% (-10,713 students) compared to 2019 pre-pandemic enrollment.
  • Preliminary data also indicate that, compared to fall 2019 (pre-pandemic), the total headcount at Washington’s CTCs is likely down between 20.1% and 23.9% in fall 2023. This represents a loss of 44,000 to 53,000 students.

There are bright spots in the preliminary fall 2023 enrollment data.

  • When final enrollment counts are available, CTC enrollment could be up more than 9,000 students year-over-year if recent trends hold.
  • Enrollment of first-year students is recovering faster than enrollment overall.
  • Enrollment of Black students has held relatively steady since the pandemic’s onset, down 1% compared to the 21% drop in the larger student population.

Washington has added more than 500,000 jobs since the early months of the COVID-19 pandemic; another 500,000 are expected by the end of this decade. By 2031, 72% of jobs in our state will require postsecondary training or credentials, yet it’s estimated that just 40% of our students are are on track to complete them. Washington employers want to hire locally whenever possible, and these jobs come with increasing demand for higher skill levels – requiring degrees, apprenticeships, and industry-aligned certificates and licenses.

Read more about the picture of postsecondary enrollment in Washington in fall 2023 in our latest report. Washington Roundtable and Partnership for Learning are committed to engaging in and supporting systemwide and institution-specific strategies to grow enrollment, offer students the support they need to complete a credential, and eliminate inequities in our education system.