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News Releases

COVID and Long-Term Trends Challenge Enrollment

Oct 25, 2021, 10:06 AM

Fall 2021 Early Enrollment Estimates

Laura Osberger
(804) 387-5191 (cell)

October 25, 2021

For immediate release

RICHMOND — Today, the State Council of Higher Education for Virginia (SCHEV) released analysis of early enrollment estimates for Virginia’s colleges and universities. This first look shows that the overall number of college students has remained stable, with a total of 525,000 students enrolled in college this fall. That number is virtually unchanged from fall of 2019 (before the Covid-19 pandemic). Enrollment varied by sector and individual institutions.

Early Enrollment

Given the turmoil of the COVID-19 pandemic, changes from 2019 before the pandemic may make a more useful comparison.

  • Public four-year colleges and universities’ enrollment estimates fell by 1.3% from 2019. This fall, their estimated total enrollment is 220,586.
  • Enrollment at two-year public colleges declined 4.2% from 2019, with a total fall 2021 enrollment estimate of 153,673. This is a slight increase, however, from 2020.
  • Private non-profit four-year colleges and universities’ enrollment increased by 6.9% from 2019, with a current estimated enrollment of 151,255 students. Much of this growth is attributable to Liberty University.

A detailed look at these initial data can be explored at SCHEV’s Early Enrollment Estimates report. The report allows the user to delineate by institution, gender and enrollment intensity. A second report compares the early enrollment estimates with the actual enrollment for previous years.

The Takeaway

These estimates are preliminary and are subject to change before final reports arrive later in the year. At this point, no systematic enrollment crisis has materialized for Virginia’s colleges and universities as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic. However, individual institutions and sectors have been impacted differently, and no one knows the pandemic’s future course or its effect on higher education. It is reassuring that out-of-state students might be returning.

In addition to the pandemic, the decreases in enrollment seen at a good number of the public colleges and universities could be part of long-term trends as higher education prepares for a future with fewer high school graduates due to population declines.

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The State Council of Higher Education for Virginia is the state’s coordinating agency for higher education. With Pathways to Opportunity: The Virginia Plan for Higher Education, SCHEV is dedicated to making Virginia the best state for education by 2030. For more on this statewide strategic plan, visit

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