NAIS Research: The State of K-12 Enrollment 2021-2022

By Margaret Anne Rowe
NAIS Research Analyst

Executive Summary

Among the aspects of American society most reshaped by the COVID-19 pandemic, few have been more substantially altered than education. It will take years to understand the true extent of the changes, many of which continue to unfold in real time. But responses to the pandemic, as well as planning for a post-COVID or COVID-endemic normal, have demanded approximate knowledge of many subjects in education for which there are few data available.

This report lays out what is currently known about enrollment in the U.S. education system between 2019 and 2020. It begins with a comparative analysis of enrollment data and trends in the public and private school sectors during the 2019-2020 school year, the most recent year for which official government data are available and the last school year to begin without the influence of the pandemic. Private institutions made up a greater share of schools than they did total enrollments, while public charter schools were the only school type to see growth. School enrollments were predicted to plateau in the 2020s, while school populations continued to diversify and shift toward the South and West.

The second chapter of the report discusses enrollment trends in NAIS member schools between 2019-2020 and 2021-2022. While the typical independent school lost enrollment during the first full pandemic school year, a majority of schools recovered—and even grew—during the second. However, the extent of enrollment growth varied greatly by school size and location, with small schools, lower schools, and schools located in Atlanta and Chicago more likely to experience enrollment declines.

Finally, this report explores pandemic-era enrollment trends in a variety of school settings. While enrollment declined in public schools as a direct result of emergency online learning during 2020-2021, virtually all schools had returned to in-person instruction for the majority of the 2021-2022 school year—though enrollment has yet to fully recover. It is clear that other school types benefited greatly from the pandemic as far as enrollment is concerned. Charter schools, fully online schools, and evangelical Christian schools all experienced modest to explosive growth. Homeschooling in particular experienced a paradigm shift, with the pandemic bringing new families, more diversity, and increasingly varied understandings of what it means to do homeschooling. When we look at the effect of COVID-19 on postsecondary education, college enrollment, already on the decline, was devastated by the pandemic. The impact of the pandemic was not felt evenly, with community colleges bearing the brunt of enrollment loss, and international students, Native American students, and male students more likely than their peers to disenroll—or not enroll at all.

This report was written by Margaret Anne Rowe, research analyst at NAIS. Totals may not equal 100% due to rounding.

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