• Carolina Journal Staff

Decline in enrollment at UNC System schools for first time in nearly a decade


For the first time in nine years, enrollment in UNC System schools is down this year, particularly in graduate programs. For fall 2022, there was a total headcount of 239,663 students across the system, down about 2% over the previous year. Of the 16 institutions in the system, 12 saw decreases in enrollment. Four saw increases.


Enrollment in graduate programs was down 7%, and transfer student enrollment was down again for a fourth year, now at the lowest since 2013. The report also showed that the percentage of minority students enrolling has increased for the 10th consecutive year. In 2022, one out of every three students in the UNC System are classified as an underrepresented minority student.


The 2022 UNC Fall Enrollment Report was presented to the University of North Carolina System Board of Governors’ Committee on Educational Planning, Policies, and Programs for discussion in their November meeting last week.


“External projections anticipated a significant dip in North Carolina high school graduates in 2022 and significant national declines over the next decade,” report author David English, acting senior vice president for academic affairs, wrote.


The report also showed that demand from out of state has led to four schools exceeding their capped enrollment of out-of-state freshmen. In 1986, the UNC BOG set that the 16 UNC System schools must limit the number of out-of-state students as a percentage of the first-time freshmen coming on campus. Over the years, system schools have opposed the caps, asking that they be increased. The policy was adjusted in 2022 to be a percentage of the previous year’s enrollment.


For 2022, the caps were 50% for Elizabeth State University, 35% for Fayetteville State University and Winston-Salem State University, 25% for North Carolina Central University and North Carolina Agricultural and Technical State University, and 18% percent for the rest of the institutions, like UNC-Chapel Hill and N.C. State.


“The UNC System saw significant enrollment demand from first-time freshmen outside North Carolina for the fall of 2022, demand that far exceeded capacity for out-of-state freshmen,” the report read.

The report followed a vote by the UNC Board of Governors Thursday in favor of fining N.C. A&T $2 million for enrolling more out-of-state students than permitted, hitting 41% of the freshman class being out-of-state. The vote came after the school exceeded the cap for two consecutive years. N.C. State, UNCW, and WCU also exceeded their caps, but by lower percentages. The three schools were notified that they would be fined if they exceed the cap again next year.


The report also predicted that nationwide college enrollment declines are expected through the coming decade and beyond, particularly in the Midwest and northern states. Substantial shifts in population indicate that by 2037, only states in the South and West will have more high school graduates than they did in 2019.


“In the coming decade, the substantial enrollment declines in the Northeast, Midwest, and West will cause colleges and universities in those regions to become more aggressive in recruiting students from the South, including North Carolina,” the report read.

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