Record Enrollment Declines for Community Colleges

virtual, learning, trainingAccording to new data from the National Student Clearinghouse, enrollment at community colleges has decreased by more than 10% since last year – a decline of nearly 545,000 students.

Among all public colleges and universities in the county, enrollment dropped by 3.6%, largely driven by the decline at two-year institutions. The Center for Community College Student Engagement published information on the demographic characteristics of traditionally community college students, which President and CEO of Achieving the Dream, Karen Stout, believes relates to the enrollment decline. Many community college students “come from low-income backgrounds, are first-generation learners, and attend school while juggling work and dependent care,” and therefore are likely to be disproportionately impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic. For first-time college students, the challenges are even higher – with the number of students enrolling in public two-year institutions down by 21% compared to last year.

From Route Fifty:

“Community college enrollment in the past has been counter-cyclical, meaning if there was an economic recession, you’d see more citizens flock to their local community college for job upskilling and retraining,”  Stout said. “But I think many of us knew that this economic downturn was much different than any other that we’ve experienced. Many of us did not expect to see a large jump in community college enrollment. In fact, many of us were very worried that exactly what is happening, would happen.”

“You don’t recover from this overnight, and a lot depends on the communities and how quickly they rebound economically. It could vary,” she said. “You might see some colleges that rebound in two years, while others could take five.”

And that rebound will require new programs and new investment, a steep challenge in an era of ever-decreasing funding for higher education. Overall state funding for public two- and four-year colleges fell more than $6.6 billion from 2008 to 2018. With states and municipalities facing budget shortfalls, particularly next year, due to decreased revenue during the pandemic, that trend seems likely to continue. But Stout remains hopeful. There’s room for transformation in this process, she said, even with the multiple challenges.

Stay tuned to Conduit Street for the latest.

Listen to the Conduit Street Podcast: Capitalizing on Our Community Colleges

See previous Conduit Street coverage: Research Shows Community College Classes Benefit 4-Year Students

See previous Conduit Street coverage: U.S. Department of Labor Announces $40M in Grants for Community Colleges