North Dakota higher education institutions aren’t alone in seeing a drop in enrollment this fall. Enrollment appears to be down across the country, especially among community colleges.

Colleges and universities across the country entered into uncharted territory this fall as they prepared to deal with the potential fallouts of the coronavirus pandemic. Schools sent students home in the spring to slow rising case numbers, but what that could have meant for enrollment in the fall was unknown.

Higher education leaders across the country prepared for a steep drop in enrollment, while also making tedious plans to bring students back to campus.

Doug Shapiro, executive director of the National Student Clearinghouse Research Center, told Inside Higher Ed, a news source dedicated to higher education, that the overall decline of about 2.5% in undergraduate enrollment “is not as bad as many feared.”

"If it stays that low as more data come in for the fall, I think there would be a big sigh of relief," Shapiro told Inside Higher Ed.

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It’s a sentiment shared by local higher education leaders.

NDUS Chancellor Mark Hagerott told the Herald last month he is very happy with the system’s numbers this year, considering the pandemic and the economic fallout it caused.

“Considering what we were potentially facing, it’s a huge vote of confidence by parents and students that many, many of them obviously came back,” he said. “Given we've gone through a pandemic and a massive recession ... people should be quite, quite happy with those outcomes.”

Overall enrollment for the North Dakota University System was down about 2% over fall 2019, which appears to be on par with the national average. The North Dakota University System total enrollment is 44,001; last year’s census total was 44,938.

The National Student Clearinghouse Research Center reported last month that early numbers show undergraduate enrollments nationally are running 2.5% below last year’s level. Additionally, international undergraduate enrollments are down 11% and community college students overall are down around 7.5%.

Similar to some North Dakota institutions, early reports show graduate enrollment across the country up about 3.9%, according to the National Student Clearinghouse Research Center. The data represents the totals collected by the group as of Sept. 10 and represents about 22%, or about 629 institutions, across the country. North Dakota, South Dakota and Minnesota are not included in those numbers as of the National Student Clearinghouse Research Center’s current report.

UND, Dakota College at Bottineau, Dickinson State University and Valley City State University all saw a slight increase in enrollment this fall.

UND’s enrollment growth was mostly pushed by transfer and graduate students. The university’s fall enrollment is 13,615, according to data from the North Dakota University System. That’s up around a quarter of a percent over last year, when enrollment was 13,581.

UND’s overall graduate enrollment is 3,304 students, up nearly 400 students from fall 2019’s enrollment of 2,909 students.

The university’s undergraduate enrollment was down nearly 4% compared to last year.

Fall enrollment at South Dakota’s six public universities is down about 2.8% in headcount, the South Dakota Board of Regents reported near the end of September. Total headcount at the six public universities was 33,566, a decline of 2.76%, or 954 students, over last year.

“Across the country, these are challenging and uncertain times for public higher education,” said Brian L. Maher, the South Dakota Board of Regents’ executive director and CEO. “Our universities prepared for the likelihood that the pandemic would impact fall enrollments, so a reduction of about 700 full-time students was not unexpected.”

South Dakota State University in Brookings had an overall headcount of 11,405 this fall, down about 1% from last year's count of 11,518.

The University of South Dakota saw a steeper decline. The Vermillion, S.D.-based university had an overall headcount of 9,459 students this year. That’s down about 4.6% compared to last year’s headcount of 9,920.

The University of Minnesota system also is down slightly this fall. This year’s total enrollment across the five campuses was 66,793, down about 1% compared to last year when enrollment was 67,024. The numbers varied by campus, with the rural schools seeing more of a decline.