First-year enrollment at CSU bounces back to nearly pre-pandemic levels

Students on campus

Students travel through campus on the first day of classes for the fall 2021 semester on Aug. 23, 2021. (Photo: John Eisele, CSU) 

Following a one-year decline, first-year student enrollment at Colorado State University’s Fort Collins campus has bounced back to nearly pre-pandemic levels. 

“We have seen first-hand how much our students want to be here at CSU, learning alongside peers and in classrooms, labs and makerspaces with our faculty,” said President Joyce McConnell. “I’ve personally talked to so many students who are excited to be on campus, whether this is their first in-person semester or a welcome return to the in-person experience they signed up for.” 

A total of 5,177 students make up CSU’s 2021 first-year class, the third largest in the land-grant university’s 151-year history. That number is up from 4,563 in 2020 and is driven in part by an uptick in out-of-state students, who account for 40% of the first-year population. 

That ratio has shifted significantly since Fall 2020, when 65% of first-year students were from in-state and 34% were out-of-state.The remaining 1% are international students. 

Total enrollment for 2021 on the main campus was at 28,580 students, up slightly from 28,440 in 2020. 

Other highlights from this year’s census report include: 

  • A 13% increase in first-year student enrollment year-over-year. 
  • 28% of new CSU students identify as diverse. 
  • 21% of the 2021 first-year students are first-generation. 
  • Transfer student enrollment is up 20% over the previous year. 
  • The College of Business saw an 8.6% increase in overall student numbers, the largest out of all of CSU’s colleges. First-year enrollment alone grew from 373 in 2020 to 544 in 2021, a 45.8% increase.  
  • First-time undergraduates returning from their first to second years increased to 85.7%. 

This is the first year that CSU has removed its test requirement for incoming students, which has resulted in more applications and the most diverse pool of candidates yet. 

“I am indeed heartened by our positive enrollment numbers, but also want to do even better when it comes to supporting all of our students from the moment they enroll until the moment they receive their diploma,” McConnell said. 

CSU students on campus

Students walk to class during the first day of in-person learning for the fall semester on Aug. 23, 2021. (Photo: John Eisele, CSU) 

Even as in-person learning has bounced back, CSU Online has continued to grow. It now has its largest enrollment ever with 4,328 students. 

The CSU Board of Governors heard these preliminary census numbers during their meeting on Tuesday. Final enrollment numbers for the semester will be reported at the Board meeting in December.

Around the system 

CSU Pueblo also saw a pandemic bounceback in 2021 with a 4.5% increase in new undergraduate, graduate and transfer students. 

The total headcount was down 85 students from the previous year and stands at 3,633. 

The new student numbers include an 18.3% increase in graduate students, which are the result of new and expanded programs. The Pueblo campus has also seen an 11% increase in the number of online credit hours students are taking this fall. 

CSU Global, the System’s fully online university, is on a different enrollment cycle than CSU’s brick-and-mortar campuses, but it has seen strong monthly growth in new student enrollment numbers over the course of the fall.

“Our campuses have worked extremely hard to be fully open this fall because we know the experience of on-campus learning is essential to many students,” CSU System Chancellor Tony Frank said. “We also know there are still students who are waiting to continue their education because of the ongoing effects of the pandemic. Some high school students are taking a gap year, and some students are holding off their return to campus for a bit. We’re working to support every student’s needs as well as we can, including a wide range of options that allow people to earn their degrees on campus or a distance – whatever works for their circumstances.”