Published: Sept. 15, 2021

CU Boulder’s enrollment numbers bounced back this fall, according to new enrollment data published Wednesday.

The campus’s fall census marked undergraduate enrollment at 29,511 students, a 1.8% increase from fall 2020.

Graduate enrollment is at 6,386 students, a 6.5% increase from a year ago.

Combined overall enrollment increased 2.6% to 35,897 students.

“We are excited that students are choosing to invest in their future by continuing their education at CU Boulder,” said Chancellor Philip DiStefano. “We know this pandemic has not been easy, though this fall marks an exciting change, thanks to more in-person experiences enabled by the availability of the COVID-19 vaccine.”

Second fall retention, which tracks students retained after their first year, was at 87.5%, matching a record previously set by the fall 2016 and 2017 first-year cohorts.

Building on last year’s progress in undergraduate diversity, undergraduate students of color increased 1.3% from last year. Students of color make up roughly the same portion of the undergraduate student population as last year at 27.5%.

However, the number of first-generation first-year students declined in 2021, dropping about two percentage points.

“It is a major goal at CU Boulder to increase access to higher education for all students,” said Kevin MacLennan, Interim Associate Vice Chancellor for Enrollment Management. “Changes such as test-optional admissions will allow us to better recruit underserved populations, and that will be a major focus for us going forward.”

The enrollment figures included encouraging academic news. The 4-year graduation rate for the fall 2017 cohort set an all-time graduation rate high at 57.8%. The 2021 first-year class is the most academically qualified in school history, with an average high school grade point average of 3.68.

The enrollment numbers are encouraging as the university navigates the effects of the past 18 months, said Chief Financial Officer Carla Ho’a.

“A return to pre-pandemic enrollment means we will have greater stability of resources to invest in our students’ classroom experience and campus life,” she said. “We are still grappling with the lasting effects of the global pandemic.”

CU Boulder has invested tens of millions of dollars to safeguarding students, faculty and staff since March 2020. The 2021-22 budget includes funding for diversity initiatives, increased investments in financial aid, an increase in the minimum wage for employees to $15 per hour and Equal Pay Act implementation.

Lower incoming enrollment last year and this year will have a long-term impact on campus finances, Ho’a said.