Arizona Public Universities’ Enrollment Growing with Notable Increase in Online Programs

During fall 2021, overall enrollment at Arizona’s public universities increased with notable growth in students taking online classes, according to the Fiscal Year 2022 Fall Enrollment Report approved by the Arizona Board of Regents. Online degree program students now comprise a third – 33.4% – of the university system’s total enrollment.

Total student enrollment at Arizona’s public universities was 212,714 in fall 2021, a 4% increase overall from fall 2020. Online enrollment is driving much of the increase with online degree program enrollment within Arizona’s public universities increasing by 82.1% since fall 2017. This year’s report also reflects steady enrollment growth in out-of-state and international immersion students.

On-campus traditional immersion student enrollment is up slightly from last fall when the COVID-19 pandemic influenced in-person enrollment, yet a 0.7% decline from last year in Arizona resident student enrollment is concerning in an era where the state’s workforce is increasingly reliant on skills gained through higher education.

“Our high-quality universities continue to attract students from around the country and throughout the world,” said ABOR Chair Lyndel Manson. “Yet, it is concerning that enrollment of Arizona resident students has declined. Arizona’s economy is at an inflection point where it is incumbent to invest in higher education to provide the qualified workforce of the future and raise quality of life for Arizonans.”

According to the report, in addition to enrollment shifts resulting from the recent pandemic, future undergraduate enrollment increases may be progressively more difficult as a result of declining Arizona birth rates during the Great Recession. Total K-12 enrollment is projected to be flat for the next few years and then begin to decline. Depending on net migration, the decline is expected to occur no later than 2025.

Without increases in the percentage of Arizona high school graduates that choose to enroll in a four-year degree program, demographic reductions may impact Arizona’s long-term educational attainment levels.

“If current trends continue in Arizona, only 16.8 percent of today’s ninth graders will graduate from a four-year college by 2029, and job forecasts by the Bureau of Labor Statistics suggest that 50 percent of all new jobs created between 2019-2029 will have a minimum requirement of a bachelor’s degree,” said ABOR Executive Director John Arnold. “For Arizona to maintain its competitive edge, we must increase educational attainment among our residents.”

This year’s report shows a continued increase in enrollment of historically underrepresented populations – Blacks, Hispanics and Native Americans – of 2.7% from fall 2020. The University of Arizona and Northern Arizona University are currently designated Hispanic-Serving Institutions (HSI) by the U.S Department of Education.

Key takeaways from the Fiscal Year 2022 Fall Enrollment Report include:

  • In fall 2021, 212,714 students enrolled in Arizona’s public universities. This is the largest enrollment in Arizona’s public universities history.
  • Fall 2021 enrollment increased 4.0% year-over-year. Much of the enrollment increase was in online programs. Online growth has been especially significant at Arizona State University, which now enrolls 57,848 online students. Overall, the universities’ have 70,995 online students.
  • Arizona’s public universities saw a 0.7% decrease in Arizona resident enrollment to 105,442.
  • Arizona’s public universities currently enroll 107,272 non-resident and international students, a 9.2% increase from fall 2020.
  • Enrollment of Black, Hispanic and Native American students continues to increase. Students from historically underrepresented populations currently comprise 29.6% (63,252 students) of enrollment at the universities.
  • The undergraduate degree program with the largest enrollment at ASU is business with 9,601 students currently enrolled, nursing at NAU with 1,225 students and psychology at UArizona with 1,956 students.
  • The master’s degree program with the largest enrollment at ASU is special education with 2,409 students currently enrolled, organizational leadership at NAU with 236 students and business administration at UArizona with 564 students.
  • Arizona’s public universities have approximately 5,064 students enrolled in degree programs at statewide learning centers.

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