“In the last 50 years, we’ve seen nothing close to the steep decline in enrollments over the last two years”
People in higher education are concerned because at other times of economic turmoil, enrollment has gone up, but that’s not happening now.
As college enrollment plunges, schools must adapt to post-pandemic reality
A college degree is still the ticket to better earnings and a more successful career. Data from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics continues to support the traditional idea that college is the path to a better life, but fewer Americans seem to be buying into it these days.
The higher education world is in shock after a second consecutive year of dramatic declines in college and university enrollments this fall. Numbers from the National Student Clearinghouse Research Center reflecting about three-quarters of the country’s post-secondary institutions show a 3.5% drop in undergraduate enrollments this year and a two-year decline of 7.8% since 2019. The drop-off last year was not unexpected in the early stages of the pandemic, but a second large decline has raised concerns that fewer Americans see the value of post-secondary education.
The drop-off last year was not unexpected amid the early stages of the pandemic, but a cumulative 6.6% drop over two years has raised concerns that fewer Americans see the value of post-secondary education.
“In the last 50 years, we’ve seen nothing close to the steep decline in enrollments over the last two years,” said Doug Shapiro, executive director of the National Student Clearinghouse. “With the population growing and the complexity and demands of the labor market increasing, it’s hard to imagine that we could see such a large decline.”
Normally, post-secondary enrollments run counter-cyclical to the economy. They rise in recessions and uncertain economies as people look to retool and add skills to expand their opportunities. That happened after the 2008 recession when enrollments — particularly at community colleges — surged.
Not this time. The outbreak of Covid-19 drove the unemployment rate to 14.8% virtually overnight early last year as community lockdowns crushed low-wage sectors like hospitality, restaurants and retail trade.
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