Something is going on with community college enrollments.
The pandemic-fueled flux is hardly over. And perhaps students will return to two-year colleges when things settle down. But if preliminary fall enrollment numbers
from the National Student Clearinghouse Research Center hold up, the sector would be down 14 percent over two years—the largest collapse in a half century.
Other types of colleges also are enrolling fewer students these days, particularly those with open-access admissions policies that serve lower-income students.
Higher education in the U.S. hit peak enrollment in 2010 and is down by roughly 1.5M students since then.
For-profit colleges have shrunk the most, collectively enrolling half the students they did in 2010. But community colleges also have been hit hard
, with a 27 percent enrollment decline during the decade before 2019, prior to the pandemic and the demographic cliff
that’s projected to arrive in about five years.
Free Community College Goes Down:
The two-year sector’s deepening enrollment crisis comes as community colleges and their students appear to have suffered another Charlie Brown moment
, with Democrats dropping their free community college plan
amid the scramble
to pass a skinnier version of the Biden administration’s Build Back Better plan.
It’s not the first time ambitious bids
to steer federal subsidies to community colleges have been scaled back
or scrapped. But the latest setback stings. And some advocates for community colleges are angry with their peers who represent four-year colleges and universities and either stayed mum
about the free community college plan or criticized it
while instead pushing for an increase to the maximum Pell Grant award.
This decision by lobbyists for four-year institutions “was a mistake they’ll come to regret,” said Martha Kanter
, an Education Department official during the Obama administration and the CEO of College Promise.
- Undergraduate enrollment among 25- to 29-year-olds dropped by 8.3 percent.
- Full-time enrollment at community colleges was down 9.8 percent.
- Enrollment in associate degree programs declined by 6.6 percent.
- In a reversal, enrollment of women dropped slightly more than men.
Many factors likely are contributing to the enrollment woes of nonselective colleges. A lack of childcare options is one of them.
Nearly 4M undergraduates—22 percent of all U.S. undergrads—were raising children while attending college in 2019,
according to a new report
from the Institute for Women’s Policy Research that looks at links between student success and childcare options. Fully 40 percent of Black women
who attend college are parents.
However, the share of public institutions that offer childcare has declined substantially, the institute found, to 45 percent from 59 percent in 2004. The steepest drop (nearly 17 percentage points) occurred at community colleges, where the largest share of student parents are enrolled.
The Kicker: “Just 18 percent of student parents earn an associate’s or bachelor’s degree within six years of enrolling in college,” the report’s co-authors wrote.