REPORT: Signs of Recovery in Postsecondary Enrollment; Still Down 51,000+

After three years of steep declines, enrollment at Washington’s postsecondary institutions began to show signs of recovery in fall 2023, led by gains at the Community and Technical Colleges (CTCs). That’s according to updated data shared by our state’s four-year postsecondary institutions and the State Board for Community and Technical Colleges. Recent policy gains should help pave pathways to credentials for Washington students, but bolder action is needed. Get all of the details in our latest Path to 70 Update Report.

Double-clicking into the data:

  • At Washington’s public four-year institutions, fall 2023 enrollment is down 12.3% (-10,713 students) compared to 2019 pre-pandemic enrollment.
  • Final fall 2023 enrollment across Washington’s 34 community and technical colleges is down 18.4% (-40,725 students) compared to pre-pandemic, but year-over-year enrollment is showing signs of recovery.

Some bright spots:

  • CTC enrollment is up nearly 13,000 students year-over-year.
  • Enrollment of first-year resident undergraduate students in the public four-year system is up 3% year-over-year.
  • Enrollment of Black students has increased since the pandemic’s onset, up 2.3%.

Reasons for optimism:

  • Legislation passed in 2023 to make College in the High School programs free for students has already resulted in thousands more high school students enrolling in coursework where they can earn college credit.
  • Guided Pathways programs at the CTCs streamline course selection and increase completion.
  • The Washington College Grant guarantees financial aid for students from low- and middle-income households.

Why more action is needed:

  • Washington has added more than 500,000 jobs since the early months of the COVID-19 pandemic; another 500,000 are expected by the end of this decade.
  • By 2031, 72% of jobs in our state will require postsecondary education, and open capacity exists at nearly all of Washington’s postsecondary institutions.

We’re committed to engaging in and supporting systemwide and institution-specific strategies to grow enrollment, offer students the support they need to complete a credential, and eliminate inequities in our education system. Read all of our Path to 70 reports.