Fewer students chose to go to college this fall. That's the bad news The bad news: Colleges are still seeing enrollment declines, and they haven't made up any ground after the pandemic's dramatic drops.

The college enrollment drop is finally letting up. That's the good news

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AILSA CHANG, HOST:

Well, the numbers are in for college enrollment. The good news is, after historic drops during the pandemic, enrollment declines seem to be slowing. The bad news - there are still fewer students choosing to go to college. NPR's Elissa Nadworny reports.

ELISSA NADWORNY, BYLINE: During the first two years of the pandemic, about a million fewer students enrolled in college. This fall undergraduate enrollment is still down compared to a year ago but not by nearly as much.

DOUG SHAPIRO: I certainly wouldn't call this a recovery.

NADWORNY: Doug Shapiro leads the research center at the National Student Clearinghouse, which released the preliminary data.

SHAPIRO: We're seeing smaller declines. But when you're in a deep hole, the fact that you're only digging a tiny bit further is not really good news.

NADWORNY: The declines are at all types of institutions - private nonprofits, four-year public schools and for-profit colleges. Community colleges saw the smallest decline, down just 0.4% compared to the fall of 2021, buoyed by a big increase in high school students dual enrolled in college classes and new freshmen. That's good news because community colleges were the hardest-hit during the pandemic, with enrollment drops in the double digits. But even before the pandemic, fewer people were going to college.

ANGEL PEREZ: And there's a few issues going on in enrollment these days, to say the least, to say the least.

NADWORNY: Angel Perez leads the National Association for College Admission Counseling. The biggest challenge - there are fewer 17- and 18-year-olds in the U.S. And the ones that are graduating - well, the pandemic has them reconsidering the value of a degree.

PEREZ: Many of the students who chose not to go to college during the pandemic have not returned to college. And so the question we are all asking ourselves in higher education is, have we lost a generation of young people into the pipeline, into higher education?

NADWORNY: Perez cites inflation, questions about college affordability, concerns about student debt and a strong labor market for unskilled workers as the major factors keeping prospective students away from enrolling. He says fewer students getting a degree or a certificate - it's not just a crisis for colleges who rely on tuition dollars. It's also a big problem for the future American workforce. Elissa Nadworny, NPR News.

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