California’s freshman enrollment is down to 7,856

California fall undergraduate enrollment declines have slowed, but still ‘troubling’

Statewide, California’s freshman enrollment is down to 7,856. The numbers for the first-year classes that graduate in May show it’s up to 7,095.

Those differences point to a pattern over time, with enrollment dropping as people go through their first year of college. But the numbers vary greatly, making it difficult to compare year-to-year enrollment trends.

“It’s a disturbing trend,” said Chris Vranich, associate director of research and statistical analysis at the California Department of Education.

“A lot of it, I think, has to do with the fact that there’s just such a small number of freshmen, and so the numbers are highly uncertain,” he said.

The statewide freshmen enrollment rate — the number of students in first-year classes — fell from a high of 9,976 freshman classes, or 35 percent of all new freshmen, in fall 2013 to 7,856 freshmen classes in fall 2017, or 25 percent.

It fell even further from 7,095 freshmen classes in fall 2018 to 7,856 freshmen classes, or 25 percent.

The rate of change was 0.2 percentage points a year over the past nine years from fall 2013 to fall 2018.

To compare the number of freshmen classes per year to previous trends, the department analyzed enrollment from fall 2012 through fall 2018, as well as the three years after that.

California State Controller Betty T. Yee, who oversees the college system, said the numbers are “troubling.”

“The decrease is disturbing,” she said. “But the increase is concerning.”

Yee said she is pleased by the way that, as enrollment has grown over the last few years, the share of students from higher income groups has decreased. She said she expects the share of students from high-income schools will decline to 50 percent or less by 2023.

But her focus, now as the fall enrollment numbers come in, is to see where enrollment trends are headed.

“We’re looking at the trajectory to see what’s going on. What we have in the colleges and universities right now is very strong,” she said.

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