Census officials analyze national education enrollment decline

Among the effects of the coronavirus pandemic on Utah educational enrollment was a jump in the number of children being home schooled from 914 in fall of 2019 to 3,375 in 2020.

WASHINGTON, D.C. – Among its other negative impacts, officials of the U.S. Census Bureau report that the coronavirus pandemic caused a drop in U.S. educational enrollment in kindergarten through university graduate schools.

Data from the Census Bureau’s most recent Current Population Survey indicates that combined enrollment in U.S. schools at all levels declined by nearly 3 million between 2019 and 2020.

That means that enrollment of students under the age of 35 dropped to 52.4 percent of the total U.S. population, its lowest level in more than two decades.

Census analysts suggest that national enrollment slump may be the result of parents keeping younger children out of K-12 public schools as well as undergraduate and graduate students withdrawing from higher education when campus activities were curtailed starting in March of 2020.

Here in Utah, the Utah State Board of Education (USBE) reported a decline of more than 1,500 students in K-12 public schools in 2020. That was the first enrollment decline in Utah public schools in 20 years.

State demographers attributed that decline to an upswing in both home schooling and private school enrollment following the pandemic outbreak.

On a national level, the percentage of children 3 and 4 years of age enrolled in pre-school dropped from 54% in 2019 to 40% in 2020, the first time since 1996 that fewer than half of all children in this age group were attending pre-school.

During the early months of the pandemic, enrollment in nursery schools fell by 24 percent (from 4.7 million to 3.5 million) and enrollment in kindergarten dropped by 9 percent (from 4.1 million to 3.7 million).

While Census officials report that enrollment in elementary and secondary schools remained relatively stable during the pandemic, college enrollment fell to the lowest level since 2007.

Most of that decline took place at two-year colleges, which reported their lowest enrollment levels in 20 years. By contrast, enrollment in four-year institutions and graduate schools held relatively steady during the pandemic.

But, despite the current surge in COVID-19 infections statewide, Utah’s educational enrollment statistics have rebounded since September.

Enrollment in Utah public schools jumped about 1.3 percent from 665,306 in spring of 2020 to 675,247 this fall.

The number of youngsters enrolled in kindergarten rose to 49,150 compared to 47,971 in 2020.

The number of Utah children being home-schooled in response to the pandemic dropped to 1,227 from a 2020 highpoint of 3,375.

The Current Population Survey, which is jointly sponsored by the Census Bureau and U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, is the federal government’s primary source of labor force and educational data.

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