Faculties should adapt to post-pandemic actuality as enrollment plunges

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A college degree is still the ticket to better income and a more successful career. Data from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics continues to support the traditional notion that college is the road to a better life, but fewer Americans seem to get involved these days.

The higher education world is in shock after a dramatic drop in enrollments at colleges and universities this fall for the second year in a row. Figures from the National Student Clearinghouse Research Center, which reflect roughly three-quarters of the country’s post-secondary institutions, show a 3.5% decrease in undergraduate enrollments this year and a 7.8% decrease in two years since 2019 Last year’s decline wasn’t unexpected in the early stages of the pandemic, but a second major decline has raised concerns that fewer Americans are realizing the value of post-secondary education.

Last year’s decline was not unexpected in the early stages of the pandemic, but a cumulative decline of 6.6% over two years has raised concerns that fewer Americans are seeing the value of post-secondary education.

“In the past 50 years, we haven’t seen anywhere near the sharp drop in enrollments in the past two years,” said Doug Shapiro, executive director of the National Student Clearinghouse. “Given the growing population and the increasing complexity and demands of the job market, it is hard to imagine that we could see such a sharp decline.”

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Usually, post-secondary enrollments are counter-cyclical to the economy. They rise in recessions and uncertain economies as people try to retool and expand their skills to expand their opportunities. It did so after the 2008 recession when enrollments – especially at community colleges – increased.

Not this time. The Covid-19 outbreak drove the unemployment rate to 14.8% practically overnight early last year as the lockdown on communities hit low-wage sectors such as hospitality, restaurants and retail.

The recovery in these sectors has been slow and uneven, but it has picked up so much that a tight labor market is now driving lower wages higher.

“Those hardest hit by the pandemic are now thinking about how to get back into the job market, not school,” said Maria Flynn, CEO of Jobs for the Future, a nonprofit that focused on American workforce and education systems concentrated. “I assume that this dynamic will continue until 2022.”

While the decline in college and university enrollments occurred in public and private institutions with two- and four-year programs, community colleges were hardest hit, declining 6% this year, after a staggering 9.4% decrease last year Year.

Four-year public programs fell by a more modest 2.5%, compared with a 1.6% decrease in 2020.

However, there are large differences between schools across all categories, with less selective schools – those serving low- and middle-income students – experiencing the largest drop in enrollment.

Martha Parham, vice president of public relations for the American Association of Community Colleges, isn’t surprised by the numbers.

“About 29% of our students are first-generation Americans, and most of them work full-time or part-time,” she said. “The pandemic has decimated the service industries and lower socio-economic groups have been harder hit.”

The break in higher education makes people question things more deeply.

Maria Flynn

CEO of Jobs for the future

She said federal funding through the CARES Act helped institutions develop online learning models and cover unbudgeted costs of the pandemic, but feared the decline in enrollments will have sustained effects.

“Our universities are financed after the enrollment,” she said. “It could be a few years before we see the full fiscal impact of these declines.”

Shapiro says she is concerned that negative signals about the financial hardship of students and institutions could lead to further declines. “I think the affordability bite really stands out now,” Shapiro said. “Students are more skeptical about the value of four years of study, and they are more cautious about student loans and borrowing.”

According to Federal Reserve data, there were 44.8 million borrowers on federal student loans in 2017, and total student debt at the end of the second quarter was $ 1.73 trillion. The average debt of 2019 graduates with a bachelor’s degree was $ 28,950, according to the Institute for College Access and Success. The still rising costs for colleges and universities are causing potential students to pause.

The decline in university enrollment could still be temporary. Likewise the tense labor market and rising wages.

However, Flynn believes the collapse in college enrollment signals a turning point for higher education and professional education systems. She is of the opinion that educational institutions should better tailor their offers to the jobs that are in demand.

You need to work with companies and other institutions to provide students with clearer pathways for economic advancement. And they need to offer “competency-based” learning models, online and in-person, that encourage students while they master their skills, rather than following a standard lesson plan.

“This is a fundamental change and the pandemic has accelerated change,” Flynn said. “The break in higher education makes people question things more deeply.

“We’ll learn a lot over the next 18 to 24 months, but I don’t think things will return to the previous status quo.”

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