TAMPA, Fla. (WFLA) — Florida’s college enrollment levels are down 4.5% since August 2022. After hitting a peak of more than 19,500 students enrolled in the Florida College System in the 2020-2021 school year, new state estimates show the state won’t return to pre-pandemic levels for at least the next six years.

While overall college enrollment in state schools is down in Florida, when it comes to what students are working to learn, one section had a bigger decrease than any other.

The data, published by the Florida Office of Economic and Demographic Research, said the biggest percentage enrollment decline was in the state’s Educator Preparation Institute Program, which experienced a nearly 40% drop in enrollment compared to the previous year.

The Florida Educator Preparation Institute program is a system for training college graduates or those seeking a career change to earn a teaching certificate, according to the Florida Department of Education.

“An Educator Preparation Institute (EPI) provides an alternative route to a Florida Professional Educator’s Certification for those that already hold a baccalaureate degree. EPIs are offered by many postsecondary institutions and qualified private providers,” FDOE says online. “EPIs provide professional preparation and education competence for career-changers and recent college graduates who do not already possess a Florida Professional Educator’s Certificate.”

There are currently 29 program accepted in Florida for EPI training.

Separately, the biggest enrollment decrease by number rather portion was in the Advanced and Professional program, which had an enrollment decrease of 1,240 students.

According to the OEDR, the forecast for enrollment was adjusted, in part, as a result of Florida’s “unusually low unemployment rate.” The office said the unemployment level in Florida has “placed downward pressure on college enrollment over the last year, and the upside enrollment risk introduced by the expected increase in the unemployment rate,” led to a change of estimate.

The current fiscal year, FY2022-2023, now has a 2.6% lower estimate than the previous state forecast, but overall Florida officials say the new forecast “suggests a 17.6% decline” by FY2027-2028.

Year-over-year, the data published by OEDR showed that even by that fiscal year, Florida college enrollment for full-time students will be at least 1,600 students lower than pre-COVID enrollment.

The same data showed the expected enrollment level for the Florida College System will be at its lowest since the 2002-2003 fiscal year. In 202-2003, there were 285,388 students enrolled. For the 2022-2023 year, the data showed 268,785 full-time enrolled students instead. The number has been on decline generally since a peak in the fiscal year of 2010-2011, where there were 375,292 FTE students.

The Educator Preparation Institute enrollment levels are also at their lowest since the 2007-2008 fiscal year, when there were 1,769 enrollees. For the 2022-2023 year, there were only a reported 251. It’s less than half as many as the year the EPI program started in the 2005-2006 fiscal year, when there were 527 enrollees.

For Tampa Bay area colleges in the state system, enrollment declines were consistent with the state trend.

College2022-2023 FTE TotalChange YoYChange over 3 years
St. Petersburg College15,001-2%-18%
Hillsborough Community College19,055+1.7%-8%
Pasco-Hernando State College6,040-0.5%-21.3%
State College of Florida6,031+3.2%-9.5%
Polk State College5,175-5.5%-22.2%
South Florida State College2,324+1.7%-2.4%
Florida College System268,785-1.2%-15%
(Source: Florida Office of Economic and Demographic Research)