Penn State enrollment remains strong despite COVID-19 pandemic

November 02, 2020

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. – Penn State’s overall enrollment for fall 2020 saw only a modest decrease in the past year, positioning the University well ahead of nationwide averages during the COVID-19 pandemic. The University also saw growth in the overall diversity of its students and enrollment gains in Penn State’s graduate and professional programs and in Penn State World Campus.

“Penn State has always strived to serve students from low-income backgrounds, and these are thought to be the individuals who have been hit hardest by recent economic impacts during the pandemic,” said Rob Pangborn, vice president and dean for Undergraduate Education. “Within this context, we are pleased to maintain stable enrollment figures and to deliver on our land-grant mission to serve many low-income families and first-generation students. We also are seeing increases among underrepresented students, in the World Campus and in many of our graduate and professional programs. The Penn State brand and reputation remain strong and are helping us to weather these challenging times,” Pangborn said.

University-wide (excluding Penn College of Technology), fall 2020 total enrollment stands at 89,816, down by 1.8% or 1,611 from 2019. At University Park, enrollment decreased by 1.8% or 822 students to 45,901. Overall enrollment at Commonwealth Campuses, including Great Valley, declined by 5.1% to a total of 26,926. Undergraduate enrollment (excluding Penn College of Technology) declined by 2.2% from 76,099 in 2019 to 74,446 in 2020.

Penn State’s undergraduate enrollment for fall 2020 includes 15,614 first-time students at University Park (8,465 new students), the Commonwealth Campuses (6,799 new students) and Penn State World Campus (350 new students) – an overall decrease of 2.3% from 2019.

The modest decline in Penn State’s undergraduate enrollment from 2019 to 2020 has been offset in part by students deferring their enrollment to the spring or fall of 2021. This year, more than 1,050 undergraduates deferred their enrollment, compared to just 305 in 2019.

The University’s enrollment numbers for 2020 position Penn State well ahead of national averages during the pandemic. The latest report from the National Student Clearinghouse Research Center showed that, nationwide, overall enrollment is down 3.0% (compared to 1.8% at Penn State), undergraduate enrollment is down 4% (compared to 2.2% at Penn State), and enrollment among first-time students is down16.1%(compared to 2.3% at Penn State).

Penn State World Campus continues to grow, increasing its enrollment by 664 students or 4.5% compared to last fall. This increase is substantially greater than the increase of 229 students seen between 2018 and 2019. This year also showed an increased number of students who opted for a temporary, one-semester change of assignment to Penn State World Campus from a residential Penn State campus (from 419 in 2019 to 606 this year).

“The steady growth we’ve seen in the World Campus reflects Penn State’s larger emphasis on providing students with flexible learning options year after year, and now more than ever,” said Pangborn. “With more than two decades of experience offering online learning through the World Campus, and campus locations throughout the commonwealth, Penn State has been well-positioned to offer flexible options that meet students and families where they are through this challenging time.”

Since March, Penn State faculty and leadership have undertaken significant measures to enable students to achieve their educational goals despite health concerns, travel restrictions and other constraints related to the COVID-19 pandemic. In the fall Penn State introduced a suite of flexible learning options that included options to start at home, continue at home, enroll at a Penn State campus, and choose from a variety of course delivery options, including in-person, hybrid or COVID-mixed mode, remote synchronous and remote asynchronous. Flexible instructional modes will remain in place in spring 2021.

The University has also undertaken efforts to support students through economic hardships during the pandemic, as part of its broader focus on access and affordability. Several new and existing Penn State initiatives have helped to support and retain students through personal hardships, including Complete Penn State, which supports Penn State seniors in overcoming obstacles to graduation; the Student Care & Advocacy Emergency Fund, which provides emergency aid to students at any stage of their education; and flexible instructional modes, which have enabled students to continue their learning remotely or in person during the pandemic. The University’s broader efforts to serve students from low-income backgrounds have taken shape recently through the Achieve Penn State initiative, which supports undergraduates in completing their degrees on time and with less debt.

Diversity at Penn State continues to grow for the second year in a row. The number of students from underrepresented groups — defined as those who self-identify as Black/African American, Hispanic/Latino, American Indian/Native Alaskan or Native Hawaiian/Pacific Islander — represent 13.6% of the total student population, an increase of 2.2% from 11,968 identified students in 2019 to 12,230 in 2020. Since 2018, the number of identified students has increased by 3.8% (from 11,783 identified students in 2018).

The University has put into place a number of programs and efforts to recruit and retain students from diverse backgrounds, and to create a welcoming and inclusive campus climate, Pangborn said. The Penn State Statement on Diversity, Equity and Inclusion reflects the strength of this commitment. This summer, Penn State extended its commitment to students from diverse backgrounds through the Educational Equity Matching Program, designating $10 million in matching funds for scholarships that advance diversity across the institution.

Several of Penn State’s graduate and professional programs saw enrollment gains. Enrollment in College of Medicine programs increased by 2.4% from 657 to 673 students, and enrollment in the Graduate School increased by 0.6% from 13,951 to 14,039 students. Dickinson Law increased its enrollment by 3.8%. Due to a substantial number of international master’s degree students shifting to a spring start, Penn State Law showed a fall enrollment decline of 14%.  

The total proportion of students enrolled at Penn State who are Pennsylvania residents held steady between 2019 and 2020 at 60.5%. Pennsylvania residents comprised 59% of University Park undergraduates and 81.9% of Commonwealth Campus undergraduates.

International enrollment across the University decreased slightly to 10.3% of total enrollment, compared to 11.4% of the total in the previous year, reflecting nationwide trends as reported by the Clearinghouse.   

The latest figures can be found online at the Penn State Data Digest  website




Last Updated November 13, 2020