Fall Enrollment Increased for the First Time in Five Years

March 2, 2023

For the first time in the past five years, new student enrollment in higher education increased this past fall 2022 compared to the previous fall. 

From fall 2018 to fall 2021, the number of new students enrolling in higher education, across all award levels, dropped every year. The most precipitous decline, 6.7 percent, was during COVID (Fall 2019 to Fall 2020). New student enrollment continued to decline through fall 2021 even as conditions started getting back to “normal.” 

Are We Reversing the Downward Enrollment Trend?

Fall 2022 data from the National Student Clearinghouse suggests that the worst may be over – and growth may be returning to higher education: Fall 2022 new student enrollment was up almost 1 percent compared to fall 2021. 

Fall Enrollment - New Students

A Glimmer of Hope for Community College Enrollment

The gains were not spread evenly across award levels.  Undergraduate certificate and non-credential programs grew 5.9 percent and 5.1 percent respectively. After years of decline, associate-level programs grew 2.9 percent, which is very good news for community colleges.

For the second year in a row, fall term new enrollment in master’s degree programs declined.  

They fell 7.6 percent – the largest drop of any degree level.

New Student Enrollment by Award Level for Fall 2022 and YoY % Growth in New Student Enrollment by Award Level

New College Enrollments By State

In fall 2022, new student enrollment increased by 30.* New Mexico and Oregon had the highest percentage growth – both rose 7 percent.. New Hampshire fared the worst, with an 11.1 percent decline.

Top 5 and Bottom 5 States* by Percentage Growth in New Student Enrollment

New College Enrollments By Discipline

What programs are new students enrolling in, and how has this changed from the previous year?  

Programs with the highest overall new enrollment are those in the broad Liberal Arts/General Studies/Humanities discipline. Health- and Business-related programs had the second and third-highest new student enrollment in fall 2022, followed by Education and Computer Science.

Top 10 Disciplines by New Student Enrollment

In terms of year-over-year growth in new enrollment, some interesting disciplines emerge at the top – and at the bottom.  Programs in Computer Science saw the largest year-over-year unit growth in new enrollment. Also in the top five were two of the popular disciplines mentioned above – Liberal Arts/General Studies/Humanities and Business. Rounding out highest-growth disciplines were Visual and Performing Arts and Culinary, Entertainment, and Personal Services. 

Two of the most popular disciplines, Education and Health Professions, experienced significant year-over-year declines.  Programs in Biology/Biomedical Sciences, Social Sciences, and Public Administration also experienced relatively large year-over-year declines in fall 2022 new student enrollment.

Top 5 and Bottom 5 Disciplines by Unit Growth in New Student Development: Fall 2021 to Fall 2022 - All Award Levels

Overall growth in enrollment is a very welcome change. To participate in this growth, institutions have to adapt to rapid changes in student interest by program and discipline. They need to invest and grow where it is possible, while simultaneously reducing expenses in declining fields. 

Elaine Rowles


Elaine works with Gray’s education clients on strategic planning projects, program portfolio evaluations, program feasibility studies, price benchmarking, and research-intensive custom project work. She has performed in-depth analyses of existing programs and institutions, as well as assessed demand and employment opportunities for new and emerging programs.

About Gray DI

Gray DI provides data, software and facilitated processes that power higher-education decisions. Our data and AI insights inform program choices, optimize finances, and fuel growth in a challenging market – one data-informed decision at a time.

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