North Carolina community colleges see highest enrollment jump in 15 years

North Carolina community colleges reported a five percent increase in Full-Time Equivalent student enrollment in Fall 2023 – marking the highest one-year enrollment jump in 15 years. This includes a 10 percent increase in workforce continuing education, nine percent in basic skills, and four percent in curriculum.  

North Carolina is ahead of nationwide enrollment trends among community colleges. According to a report from Community College Daily, community colleges in the U.S. saw a 2.6 percent increase in Fall 2023.  In addition, the National Student Clearinghouse Research Center reports undergraduate enrollment at public 2-year colleges has decreased 12.5 percent since fall 2019. 

“The recent surge in enrollment at our community colleges is a testament to the growing recognition of the value we provide,” said Dr. Jeff Cox, President of the North Carolina Community College System. “It’s incredibly exciting to see so many individuals choosing this accessible and affordable path to a brighter future. This is a win for students, businesses, and the entire state as we cultivate a skilled and prepared workforce.” 

The total headcount in Fall 2023 was 393,227 – this is a 4 percent increase from Fall 2022. The System serves nearly 600,000 students annually at 58 institutions across the state.  
Dr. Bill Schneider, Vice President of System Effectiveness at the North Carolina Community College System, said he believes enrollment trends are a result of both marketing efforts and students feeling more comfortable returning to campus after Covid. 

“Statewide enrollment is strong. Especially when you compare North Carolina to other states,” Schneider said. “We are now within 2 percent of where we were prior to Covid from the perspectives of total FTE and curriculum headcount.”   
The table below illustrates student headcount and FTE since fall 2019. 

table with enrollment numbersOne of the most contributing factors is a spike in dual enrollment across North Carolina. The number of high school students in the Career and College Promise program increased by 12 percent since Fall 2022. Students under the age of 18 now make up 18 percent of the total student population. 

“There’s no surprise that participation in dual enrollment continues to increase statewide. CCP offers structured pathways opportunities for high school students to earn credits, credentials, and entry-level jobs skills,” said Dr. Brian Merritt, Senior Vice President and Chief Academic Officer at the North Carolina Community College System. “These tuition-free opportunities are drivers of economic mobility and generational change for high school students and their families.” 

Learn more about North Carolina community colleges.  

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