Postsecondary enrollment plateaus – 51,000+ Fewer Students Enrolled Since Pandemic

A chart showing postsecondary enrollment trends in WA state.

 

After three years of steep declines, postsecondary enrollment in Washington is showing signs of recovery. According to data shared with Washington Roundtable by the state’s public postsecondary institutions, 51,000+ fewer students enrolled in our public institutions in fall 2023 than in fall 2019 – representing a 17% enrollment decline since the pandemic’s onset. This comes when postsecondary education is increasingly the only pathway to middle-class jobs.

Toplines:

  • At Washington’s public four-year institutions, fall 2023 enrollment is down 12.3% (-10,713 students) compared to 2019 pre-pandemic enrollment.
  • Final fall 2023 enrollment across Washington’s 34 community and technical colleges is down 18.4% (-40,725 students) compared to pre-pandemic, but year-over-year enrollment is showing signs of recovery.

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

  • CTC enrollment is up nearly 13,000 students year-over-year.
  • Enrollment of first-year resident undergraduate students in the public four-year system is up 3% year-over-year.
  • Enrollment of Black students has increased since the pandemic’s onset, up 2.3%.

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 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.

In our latest report, read more about the picture of postsecondary enrollment in Washington in fall 2023. 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.