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Media Release: Washington Public Enrollment Trends

Public college enrollment still going down, threatening state’s progress on education equity

September 25, 2023

Olympia—The precipitous pandemic-induced decline in college enrollment has slowed, according to a new report from the Washington Student Achievement Council (WSAC), but Washington’s public colleges continued to see fewer students enrolling in fall 2022 than in previous years. Ongoing enrollment declines could threaten long-term progress toward Washington's statewide attainment goal and further exacerbate inequities in educational outcomes for students. 

“Although more students are heading back to postsecondary education than we’ve seen in the last few years, we still have a ways to go to recover to pre-pandemic levels of enrollment," said Isaac Kwakye, senior director of research and student success at WSAC. "It’s important that we continue to keep an eye on state enrollment trends to ensure an equitable recovery.” 

Thus far, the decline in college enrollment is impacting some populations more than others. The report's analysis of state data provides insights on enrollment trends at public institutions in Washington during the pandemic: 

  • Overall, enrollment fell by 25% at community and technical colleges between fall 2019 and fall 2022. But the year-over-year decline has slowed considerably over the past three years—enrollment was 4% lower in fall 2022 than fall 2021, a smaller decline than the 9% drop in fall 2021 or the 13% drop in fall 2020. 
  • Undergraduate enrollment at public four-year institutions fell by 10% between fall 2019 and fall 2022. The trend at public four-year institutions has been steady, with a 3% year-over-year decline for each of the past three years. 
  • Further examination of enrollment trends during the pandemic across various student sub-groups reveals differences by race, financial aid status and enrollment intensity, and also for new students.  

To recover from enrollment losses related to the COVID-19 pandemic and continue progress toward Washington’s postsecondary attainment goals, the state must provide effective, equitable supports to ensure students can access college or career training and obtain credentials. 

Learn more in the report snapshot or view the full report