CSU sees 12% drop in freshman enrollment during pandemic, but online education surging

Enrollment at Colorado State University is down in multiple categories — freshmen, undergraduates, international students and first-generation students — though the number of people signing up for online education has risen, a reflection of student behavior during the COVID-19 era, university officials said Friday.

Total enrollment on the Fort Collins campus decreased 3.6%, with a total headcount of 27,835 this fall, and 3.3% at the Pueblo campus, for a total of 3,716 students this semester.

“Remarkably during a pandemic year, CSU Pueblo increased student retention more than at any time in the last decade (a 5 percentage point increase) and CSU in Fort Collins held steady, retaining 85.3% of its 2019 freshman class, exactly the same percentage as the previous year when COVID-19 was not a factor,” CSU officials said in a news release.

The Fort Collins campus welcomed 23,590 undergraduates this fall, a 4.1% decline from last year with most of that decrease in numbers of new freshmen.

Freshman enrollment decreased more than 12%, from 5,204 last year to 4,556 this year.

Deferrals — when an accepted student asks the university to hold their place for up to a year — more than doubled, with 750 students requesting to defer this semester versus about 300 last year.

Similarly, enrollment and the number of students who deferred declined at the University of Colorado Boulder, where freshmen enrollment also dipped around 12% and deferrals skyrocketed.

CSU’s online enrollment saw a marked increase as students weighed whether coming to campus in the midst of a pandemic was the right choice for them.

Preliminary numbers for CSU Global’s fall trimester reflect a nearly sixfold increase in international enrollment in online degrees — from 73 students to 433. CSU Pueblo’s online-only enrollment shot up 67% from last year and the Fort Collins campus’s online program increased 37% among undergraduates from last year.

Enrollment among first-generation students is down 6.7%, or 404 students, compared to a 3.3% decrease in non-first-generation students.

“CSU is known for its strong commitment — across all our campuses — to supporting students who are the first in their families to go to college, and we’re concerned to see that first-generation student enrollment at our Fort Collins campus is down this year by nearly twice that of non-first-generation students,” said CSU System’s Chief Academic Officer Rick Miranda in the news release. “The impact of the pandemic recession is taking a toll on these students and their families, and we need to continue to focus on how we can support these students in pursuing their academic goals.”

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