Cuyahoga Community College

The COVID-19 pandemic delivered a big blow to college enrollments nationwide and here in Cleveland. Early numbers out Thursday, Oct. 26, show some of those trends might be changing. 

Compared to the same time last year, undergraduate enrollment across the country increased by about 2%, meaning it’s now about one percent above enrollments in 2021. It’s the first time those numbers have gone up since the pandemic. Graduate enrollment continued to grow, too.

Who is–and isn’t–attending higher education institutions matters for lots of reasons. Local colleges are often big employers in their areas, and, in turn, they train local workforces. 

Plus, having some type of post-high school training or degree can impact lots of things, ranging from workers’ lifelong earnings to how healthy residents are. 

Community colleges see growth 

One of the biggest headlines coming out of these new findings from the National Student Clearinghouse Research Center–the group keeping tabs on this work–is how community colleges are leading much of the growth.

That wasn’t always the case. Two-year public colleges saw the biggest declines during the pandemic. The majority of students at those institutions are women and/or people of color, two groups disproportionately impacted by the pandemic.  

Here in Cleveland, Cuyahoga Community College’s growth is following national trends. Tri-C saw about 10% growth for fall 2023 compared to last fall, bringing its total headcount to about 17,410 students. 

“This is good news for community colleges and for the growing numbers of continuing and returning students who had lost momentum from the start of the pandemic,” Douglas Shapiro, executive director of the National Student Clearinghouse Research Center, said in a news release about the national findings. 

There is more interest, researchers found, in shorter-term courses leading to credentials compared to degrees taking longer to earn. Plus, the number of high school students taking college courses is up again. This fall, about one in five students at Tri-C is attending via Ohio’s dual enrollment program known as College Credit Plus. 

Fewer freshmen 

The national findings also point out there are 4% fewer first-year students enrolling in college. It reversed the progress made last year.

Officials at Cleveland State University projected 1,628 new freshmen would enroll this fall. In actuality, that figure came in at 1,455 students. 

Despite that, though, the university has more “first-time freshmen living on campus than we ever have,” said Jonathan Wehner, the university’s vice president and dean of admissions. 

“What that says to me is, for those students that are out there and want a traditional collegiate experience, they want to live on campus,” said Wehner. “They want to go to sporting events. They want to be involved in student activities. They want to eat in the dining hall.” 

Overall, the university is reporting a drop in its total headcount. About 14,175 students enrolled this fall, a 2% drop from the previous year. CSU has lost about 13% of its enrollment over the past five years. 

More students at Case Western Reserve 

Across town, Case Western Reserve University is seeing more students. About 6,200 undergraduates enrolled this semester, up from about 6,000 last year. 

The university extended admission offers to about 11,200 new first-year students for this semester. Roughly 1,545 students accepted, per the first-year profile publicly shared by the institution.

The number of new first-year Hispanic or Latine students stayed about the same from the same time the previous year, though the number of Asian American students rose from 29% to 35% and the number of Black students fell from 12% to 8% this fall.

The Clearinghouse’s national findings report Black, Latine, and Asian students represent the bulk of enrollment growth at both the undergraduate and graduate levels. 

Amy Morona covers higher education for Signal Cleveland, in partnership with Open Campus.

Higher education reporter for Signal Cleveland in partnership with Open Campus.