Campaign for College Opportunity Releases New Report Finding Significant But Varying Enrollment Challenges Across California State University Campuses

March 8th, 2024

“Illuminating Innovations” reveals that the CSU experienced enrollment declines from fall 2020 to fall 2023 in progressively smaller numbers, indicating that the system is beginning to stabilize post- COVID-19 pandemic

(California) – Today, the Campaign for College Opportunity released Illuminating Innovations: Advancing Enrollment at California State University (CSU) which provides a campus-by-campus analysis of enrollment changes from fall 2020 to fall 2023. Overall, the CSU suffered a 6.5% enrollment decline systemwide from pre-pandemic numbers. 

Undergraduate enrollment declined at 19 campuses since 2019:

Four campuses experienced increases:

The four campuses that experienced growth or smaller declines are more selective regarding enrollment, and first-time student enrollment exceeded pre-pandemic levels. Chico and East Bay saw the greatest drop in enrollment overall, with Sonoma experiencing the greatest drop in first-time student enrollment.

California’s Latinx population is the youngest and fastest growing demographic in the state, with education critical to ensuring that this group thrives in the coming decades. Their success will sustain California’s position as an economic and cultural leader in the nation, and much more must be done to support undergraduates in all the higher education systems. The CSU was growing steadily prior to the pandemic, and while declining slightly in 2021 by over 1,800 students, the population has rebounded and now slightly exceeds its all-time high of fall 2023 as the detrimental effects of the pandemic recede, campuses leverage Graduation Initiative 2025 Strategies, and efforts increase to recruit and retain students with practices that show promise for maintaining or growing enrollment of Latinx students. Eleven CSU campuses experienced growth in enrollment of Latinx students over the pandemic period, despite overall decreasing enrollment numbers, with San Luis Obispo, San Diego, Fullerton and Long Beach Latinx enrollment numbers contributing significantly to their total increases.

The report also reveals common themes on efforts made across the system to secure or grow enrollment amidst the real obstacles created by the pandemic. For example, several campuses led efforts to target underrepresented students with intensified outreach and services, fostering a sense of belonging for diverse groups of students to increase retention, and provide increased financial supports to address job loss and other financial hardships experienced by students and their families. Other efforts included reducing administrative barriers impeding student progress like streamlining forms and processes, and increasing data use in campus conversations and decision-making to design interventions and facilitate strategy adjustments. These efforts align with priorities of the CSU system’s Graduation Initiative 2025, and campuses often described their efforts as a “doubling down” on strategies adopted as part of the initiative. Several cultural shifts on these campuses have supported their efforts, including recognition of unique transfer student needs and the importance of retention to overall enrollment levels, and an understanding that maintaining enrollment takes commitment and collaboration across roles and departments.

“Our new report effectively captures how the CSU system managed student enrollment during an unprecedented period of turmoil for our state, nation and the world. Although many campuses in the system addressed equitable student enrollment for Latinx, Black, underrepresented Asian American and Native Hawaiian and Pacific Islander, and American Indian and Alaskan Native undergraduates, we need to apply those successful approaches to all higher education institutions as essential practices to account for student vulnerabilities during challenging times, and allow them to thrive during prosperous periods. ,” said Campaign for College Opportunity President Michele Siqueiros. “Our recommendations for providing this support included in this report address efforts that can be undertaken by campus and system leaders, as well as policymakers, to graduate qualified and educated state citizens who are the future of California’s prosperity.”

Illuminating Innovations: Advancing Enrollment at California State University provides a comprehensive summary of data on recent changes in undergraduate enrollment in the CSU system, with an examination of responses to enrollment challenges at campuses that fared better in undergraduate enrollment levels over the last few years, particularly for Latinx and Black students. The Campaign offers a number of recommendations to improve state and system policies supporting undergraduate enrollment and maintain the benefits of higher educational attainment for the state.

For CSU Campus Leaders:

For CSU System leaders:

For State Policymakers:

Illuminating Innovations: Advancing Enrollment at California State University will be available for download here.


The Campaign for College Opportunity is a California non-profit bipartisan policy and research organization focused on a single mission:  to ensure all Californians have an equal opportunity to attend and succeed in college in order to build a vibrant workforce, economy and democracy. For more information, visit or follow @CollegeOpp on X and Instagram.