Published: Sept. 21, 2020

This fall semester, CU Boulder recorded its most diverse and one of its most academically well-prepared classes of new first-year students in university history, even as it navigated the public health, financial and other impacts of the coronavirus pandemic, according to final enrollment data issued today.

And while overall enrollment numbers fell for new and continuing undergraduates, international students and new transfer students—they rose overall for graduate students and Colorado residents despite uncertainty linked to the pandemic.

Based on new census data, total fall enrollment for the 2020-21 academic year is 34,975, a 1.6% decline from 35,528 in fall 2019, and this year’s incoming first-year class totals 6,326, an 11.1% decline from 7,113 last year. About 1,250 students deferred their enrollment to spring 2021 or fall 2021—a 265% increase over fall 2019 when 342 students deferred enrollment until spring 2020 and fall 2020.

“We recognize that students and their families this year needed to weigh a range of factors as they were deciding what would work best for them,” said Kevin MacLennan, interim associate vice chancellor of enrollment management.

Diversity, equity and inclusion remain campus priorities, and this year’s undergraduate and graduate classes are the most diverse in CU Boulder history. The first-year class also includes first-generation scholars, who comprise 14.5% of the new students.

Undergraduate student diversity rose 1.2 percentage points, bringing the total percentage of enrolled students of color to 27.6%, compared to 26.4% last year; the percentage of graduate students of color rose 2.1 percentage points, bringing the total to 19.2% compared to 17.1% last year.

Among this year’s first-year class, student diversity accounts for 28.6% of the total student population compared to 28.2% in 2019, and 28% of new transfer students this year are racially and ethnically diverse compared to 25.7% in 2019.

Incoming first-year students this year are among the most academically qualified in university history. The average grade point average for the 2020 entering class is 3.68, which ties with the fall 2019 cohort, which was the highest in campus history.

Another high point: Four-year graduation rates for first-year students who entered the university in fall 2016 rose significantly to 57%, representing a four percentage point increase over the four-year graduation rate of 53% for the fall 2015 cohort. Both the four-year graduation rate for the 2016 cohort and the year-over-year gain are all-time highs for CU Boulder, and university officials attribute them to a strong cohort of students and the campus’s first-year student success efforts.

Chief Financial Officer Carla Ho-a said enrollment has a significant impact on the university’s revenue and costs, and “lower enrollment means we have less revenue to support the costs we incur to educate our students. Less tuition revenue, because of a smaller incoming class, resets our ongoing budget at a lower level for years to come.”

This year, the university invested tens of millions of dollars to safeguard the health of students, faculty and staff due to the pandemic.

Ho-a said the university expected further enrollment declines after submitting its budget for the current academic year in June. To offset these impacts, the university in July asked campus units to reduce their budgets by a maximum of 5% for the current fiscal year. Cost reductions will vary by school, college and administrative unit, but they might include the elimination of vacant positions, postponing financial commitments, and opportunities to consolidate activities and create cost efficiencies.

In spite of the campus’s ongoing efforts to streamline its costs and operate more efficiently, Ho-a said investments in campus priorities supporting the university’s academic mission, the mental health and wellness of students, faculty and staff, equitable student success, and diversity and inclusion would continue.

“It would be difficult to guess how all of these impacts might affect next year’s enrollment trends,” she said. “But uncertainty about COVID-19 is likely to have financial and other impacts on our campus for the next several years.”

CU Boulder – Additional Enrollment Data for Fall 2020

Enrollment  2019 2020 % Change
Undergraduates 29,624 28,978 -2.2%
Graduates 5,904 5,997 +1.6%
Total residents 20,709 20,888 +0.9%
Total nonresidents 14,819 14,087 -4.9%
First-year residents 3,758 3,480 -7.4%
First-year nonresidents 3,355 2,846 -15.2%
International undergraduates 1,675 1,196 -28.6%
International graduates 1,249 1,026 -17.9%
New transfers 1,555 1,411 -9.4%