Nationally, college enrollment declined by nearly half a million (463,000) between 2012 and 2013, according to new data from the U.S. Census Bureau’s Current Population Survey. This was the second year in a row that saw a drop of this size. The Census Bureau noted that much of the decline took place among 2-year colleges or community colleges. Across the nation, enrollment at community colleges declined by 10% between 2012 and 2013, while 4-year colleges saw a slight increase in enrollment (1%).

The graph below presents data for public institutions of higher education in North Carolina. These statistics include both full-time and part-time students.

The dark gray line represents fall enrollment data for 60 public, 2-year community colleges. Enrollment in community colleges increased sharply between 2004 and 2009, growing by 50,000 new students or 24% over these five years. Since 2009, North Carolina community colleges have enrolled nearly a quarter of a million individuals each fall. Although enrollment has declined since its peak of 254,011 students in 2010 by about 9,400 students or 3.7%, these declines are nowhere near the magnitude of the 10% decline reported in the national data.

Number of Students in NC Higher Ed 2004 to 2013

The gold line represents enrollment in undergraduate programs at UNC system schools. Between 2005 and 2009, enrollment increased by nearly 20,000 students, an increase of 16%. Since 2010, fall undergraduate enrollment has held steady at just under 170,000 students each year.

Last, the red line represents enrollment in graduate programs at UNC system schools. Like enrollment in both undergraduate programs and community colleges, graduate enrollment rose substantially between 2004 to 2009. Over this time period, graduate enrollment grew by 21% or just over 7,000 students. Graduate enrollment has held steady at about 40,000 students each year since 2009.

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