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  • Writer's pictureDina

The Pandemic's Effect on College Enrollment

According to recent studies, data has shown a sharp decline in college enrollment due to the pandemic, with community colleges taking most of the hit. This decline, which has affected mostly Black and Latino students, hurts social mobility in our society, not just the colleges themselves.

Overall, enrollment fell by nearly 5% in the spring of 2021, compared to the year before, and according to the National Student Clearinghouse, two-year community colleges, which usually enroll more low-income students and students of color, made up more than 65% of total enrollment losses.

“Community college enrollment dropped by 9.5% this spring, with a loss of 476,000 students.”

With a decrease in community college enrollment, there will be a decrease in transfer students – how this affects transfer admit rates is something to keep an eye on.

“Of the 2.6 million individuals who entered college as first-time freshmen in fall 2019, 73.9% continued their studies at any U.S. institution in fall 2020 compared to the 75.9% who did so the prior year.”

Again, a slight drop in first-time freshmen, suggesting an increase in the number of students who took a gap year. This is another area to keep an eye on – if students return the following year, that can affect admit rates as well.

“Latino enrollment in community colleges overall — which had been increasing before the pandemic — fell by 13.7% this spring, with enrollment of Latino men and Black men falling 19.4% and 21.5% respectively.”

Colleges may look to make up for this decrease in future classes they admit.

“The difference between the highest retention rate (86.5% for Asian students) and the lowest (64.9% for Black students) was almost 22 percentage points.”

In other words, there are still plenty of Asians on campuses; if colleges look at their diversity numbers, they may start to be a bit more hands-on.

“The eroding of community colleges, which serve as a less expensive springboard to the middle class, will ’likely be felt for generations,’ Mamie Voight, the interim president of the Institute for Higher Education Policy.”

Leading to a larger divide among wealth and education levels.

“…engineering majors showed the highest persistence rate of the top five majors at 92.2%. They were followed by biological and biomedical sciences majors with a persistence rate of 91.3%, health care majors at 89%, liberal arts and sciences and general studies at 88.1%, and business-related majors at 85.6%.”

“Both biological and biomedical sciences and health care majors saw notable increases in their retention rates over the prior year (+1.4 and +1.8 percentage points to 82.3% and 78.9%, respectively). The largest persistence rate drop was for liberal arts majors (-1.6 percentage points to 88.1%).”

We will still have a healthy number of STEM degree graduates. These majors will continue to be extremely competitive as colleges recover from enrollment declines.

However, “even as undergraduate enrollment fell, graduate education is on the rise, with enrollment in master's and doctoral programs rising 5.2% and 3.6% respectively.”

The main takeaway is that the lack of a college degree may seem to be less critical now with the job market surging, but a college degree remains one of the best protections against unemployment.

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