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Undergraduate enrollment dips 6%, leaves of absence and deferrals spike for fall semester

As a unique semester moves forward, fewer students are along for the ride than last year. 

Duke saw almost a sixfold increase in leaves of absence and close to a fivefold increase in deferrals, according to data provided by Michael Schoenfeld, vice president for public affairs and government relations. 

The number of students reporting leaves of absence rose to 293 this semester from 50 in fall 2019, Schoenfeld wrote in an email. One hundred and seventy-four first-years deferred enrollment, while 36 did last year.

Undergraduate enrollment decreased about 6% from last fall, according to enrollment data published by the Office of the University Registrar. Enrollment snapshots taken in September of each year show 6,691 undergraduates enrolled this fall, 7,118 last fall and 7,104 in fall 2018.

The number of undergraduates includes students enrolled full time or part time in both degree and non-degree programs, as well as a single person auditing in fall 2018 and 2019. 

The number of undergraduates taking classes part time for a degree rose to 108 this semester, from 20 last fall and 21 in 2018. Duke has allowed most juniors and seniors to take classes part time this fall if they choose, which is an option usually reserved for students in their last semester of enrollment. 

Graduate enrollment saw a decrease of 4.9% from last year, including all the categories of students listed for undergraduate enrollment, according to the enrollment data. The snapshots show 9,451 graduate students enrolled this semester, 9,937 last fall and 9,868 in 2018.

Schoenfeld wrote that Duke had factored an increase in leaves and deferrals into its financial planning. 

“These numbers were in line with initial projections that were made over the summer,” he wrote. 

The University has adjusted its spending to plan for the financial impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic. Steps so far include stopping contributions for 12 months to a retirement plan for faculty and staff, temporarily cutting the pay of highly compensated employees, freezing salary raises, freezing hiring and halting new on-campus construction. 


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