College Enrollment Takes A Nose Dive Due To Pandemic

By Kristi Eckert | 7 months ago

college enrollment

The United States economy is currently feeling the weight of a whole host of challenges that arose in the wake of the pandemic. Products are nearly impossible to find because of the logjams at all major domestic ports, food and gas prices are increasing at frightening rates, and small businesses are struggling to stay afloat amid widespread labor shortages. Covid-19 has truly infected every possible sector of society, and that even includes education. NPR reported that for the past two years college enrollment in the United States has taken a dangerously steep nosedive and it’s not getting better any time soon.

Recent data collected by the National Student Clearing House Research Center revealed that college enrollment rates fell by roughly 3.4% in the Fall of 2020 and by 3.2% in the fall of 2021. The center extrapolated the data from 8.4 million undergrads who comprise about 50% of the nation’s colleges and universities. That means the percentage decrease equates to around 240,000 fewer students entering higher education. A decrease this drastic has not been seen in at least 50 years. 

If this worrisome college enrollment trend continues, its ramifications could severely impact the US economy. Doug Shapiro, who runs the National Student Clearing House Research Center, said “It’s not the only path, and it’s certainly not a guarantee, but it’s the best path we have right now. And so, if more students are thrown off that path, their families and communities suffer, and our economy suffers because businesses have fewer skilled workers to hire from.”

Shapiro went on to explain that if less students enroll in college then less students will graduate, which will mean that fewer students will have specialized training that would qualify them for higher-paying jobs. This could potentially mean that because of the decrease in college enrollment the United States could see a shortage in the number of people able to fill vital societal roles, like that of doctors and nurses. 

workers quit

Fewer college enrollments now that could potentially affect the number of people qualified to fill vital societal roles could be especially concerning given the effects the United States is seeing because of the current sustaining labor shortage. In fact, Karina Soorma, a patient care director in New York City, told PBS News that her hospital used to only hire nurses with bachelor’s degrees, and now, out of desperation, they are accepting applicants with only associate’s degrees. 

Doug Shapiro also went on to point out that those likely to suffer most are those who fall into marginalized demographics. He emphasized that while the declining college enrollment trend is overtly obvious across all colleges and universities, community colleges have seen the highest decreases in enrollments. In 2020 community college enrollment plummeted by about 10%. In the fall of 2021 community colleges saw a, better but still steep, 5.6% drop. These statistics are troublesome because community colleges most often enroll students of color as well as those who fall into a low-income demographic. People from these communities are already at a greater disadvantage when compared to other demographics in terms of access to higher education, and if this trend continues they are likely to suffer the most in terms of having the ability to attain a higher wage from a specialized profession. 

Critics, however, point out that college isn’t as essential as it used to be. Much of what colleges used to teach can now be easily learned on the internet. Additionally, many students have ended up enrolling in college programs which, when they graduate, don’t benefit the workforce. If you’re an English major, you’ll probably end up working at Starbucks when you’re done, a career you could have taken on without a degree. It may be that college simply isn’t necessary anymore.

It still remains to be seen if this trend will turn around, and it will likely be a while before it becomes clear if it will or not considering society is still being pummeled by the fallout induced by the pandemic. However, as the effects of a pandemic ravaged society begin to ease college enrollment rates could begin to increase.