College enrollment fell 3.5% in the spring term compared to the prior year, representing about 600,000 fewer students and marking the steepest annual drop in a decade, according to final figures from the National Student Clearinghouse Research Center.

A 4.9% drop in undergraduates, or roughly 727,000 students, fueled the decline Graduate enrollment, which rose 4.6%, or around 124,000 students, helped offset some of those losses.

The report reveals the severity of the pandemic's impact on enrollment. Recovery depends in part on whether schools will be able to convince these missing students to enroll for the upcoming academic year.

Enrollment losses in the spring are seven times larger than the 0.5% drop seen the year before. "That's a lot of educational trajectories interrupted, if not completely disrupted," said Doug Shapiro, the center's executive director.

The downswing continues a trend seen in the fall term, when almost 500,000 fewer students were enrolled in college compared to 2019 figures.

Undergraduate declines this spring were concentrated at community colleges, where enrollment fell nearly 10%. Traditional-age students, which the report defines as those ages 18 to 24, dropped 13.2% within that sector, compared to a 6.1% drop in older students.

Enrollment of men at community colleges dropped by 14.4% in the spring, more than double the loss of women. The report does not track other gender categories.

Growth among graduate students helped lessen overall enrollment declines. For-profit, four-year colleges saw the second-largest losses out of all the institution types, at 1.5%. Private nonprofit and public four-year colleges both had dips of less than 1%.

Read the full article about declining college enrollment by Natalie Schwartz at Higher Education Dive.