Enrollment at U.S. community colleges has dropped nearly 8 percent this fall, newly released figures show, part of an overall decline in undergraduate enrollment as students face a global pandemic and the worst economic recession in decades.
Often, enrollment in higher education spikes in times of high unemployment and recession, as students seek additional job skills and postpone entering the workforce. But the pandemic has overturned those traditional calculations, according to preliminary data from the National Student Clearinghouse Research Center, which tracks college enrollment.
Hardest hit were community colleges, which traditionally serve lower-income students and those seeking additional career skills. The enrollment drop comes as many of those schools face a host of new financial pressures.
"Those are institutions that were already operating in many cases on very thin margins even before the pandemic," says Doug Shapiro, who leads the research center at the Clearinghouse. He says the community college numbers are "most worrisome," because of the students they tend to serve.
"It's a matter of critical concern if even these kinds of traditional on-ramps to higher education for low income students are becoming inaccessible," Shapiro adds.