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Are Colleges Finally Feeling the Hurt? Ongoing Trend Spells Bad News for Future

For the third year in a row, college enrollment has decreased and now some are predicting that “a path back to pre-pandemic enrollment levels is growing further out of reach.” A report from the National Student Clearinghouse outlined that undergraduate and post-graduate enrollment declined by 1.1 percent from last fall. This new decline brings the total enrollment decline from 2020 to 3.2 percent, the report added. Doug Shapiro, the director of the National Student Clearinghouse, said that these numbers are concerning. “After two straight years of historically large losses, it is particularly troubling that numbers are still falling, especially among freshmen. Although the decline has slowed and there are some bright spots, a path back to pre-pandemic enrollment levels is growing further out of reach,” Shapiro said. “I certainly wouldn’t call this a recovery. We’re seeing smaller declines. But when you’re in a deep hole, the fact that you’re only digging a tiny bit further is not really good news,” Shapiro also said, according to NPR. However, though enrollment has decreased in the consecutive years since COVID, online school enrollment increased, the report added. “At primarily online institutions, where more than 90 percent of students enrolled exclusively online prior to the pandemic, undergraduate enrollment has grown by 3.2 percent from last fall. This was largely driven by younger students aged 18-20, for whom enrollment growth totaled 23.4 percent over two years since fall 2020,” the report added. Historically black colleges and universities also had undergraduate enrollment increase by about 2.5 percent this fall. That growth was a reverse of the 1.7 percent enrollment decline from the fall of 2021, however, the report added. The report also found that while enrollment dropped at public four-year institutions and private colleges, the smallest decline was at community colleges, with only a 0.4 percent enrollment loss. But part of the reason for the small decline at community colleges was due to dually enrolled high school students. These enrollment changes for HBCUs, online schooling and private schools seem to indicate a shift in the nature of college choices for students. The Wall Street Journal noted that students’ growing concern over finances and other possibilities outside of a four-year degree may be contributing to the decline. “University enrollment was sinking for a decade before the pandemic and this year’s rate marks a return to that earlier, slower pace of decline. Factors contributing to enrollment’s long-term slide include concerns about student debt and the rise of alternative credentials,” the Journal reported. The Journal also spoke to Scott Pulsipher, president of Western Governors University which is an online institution, and he spoke about how higher education and students’ choice have evolved. “We’ve learned how to leverage technology to dramatically personalize learning in a way that can increase cognitive progress,” Pulsipher told the Journal. Shapiro also told NPR that the economy’s increase in the labor market for unskilled workers has also likely contributed to many students’ decision to not pursue college. Mikyung Ryu, who is the director of research publication at the National Student Clearinghouse, also said that this seems to be the case in graduate education as well. “My theory would be, I think in the initial shock of the pandemic in fall 2020, the fresh-minted college graduate wanted to buy themselves a little time by enrolling in master’s degree programs,” Ryu told NPR. “As the labor market is turning in the other direction, maybe there is more interest in getting employment rather than seeking further education at the graduate level.” This article appeared originally on The Western Journal.

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