10% drop from Fall 2019 to Fall 2020
Enrolment at US community colleges has plunged by 10% from Fall 2019 to Fall 2020 amid the coronavirus pandemic.
Four-year universities fared better than many had expected, with only a slight dip in enrolment.
There are myriad reasons for the community college downturn.
Fewer freshmen are enrolling and some are delaying college until campuses fully reopen. Depression and anxiety have also disrupted the academic careers of community college students, according to The National Student Clearinghouse.
The pandemic has also taken a heavy toll on older students. Many lost jobs or have no time for their own schooling as they supervise their children’s online classes.
The added challenge of the pandemic was too much for many students. Across the US, community colleges have reported surging demand from students who need help getting food, prompting them to expand pantries and grocery programmes — in some cases tripling the amount of food distributed in past years.
MassBay Community College near Boston suffered a 10% enrolment decrease, but officials have been ramping up relief aid for students. College meal assistance scholarship applications have increased by 80% since last year.
The shift also illustrates how the pandemic has widened educational racial inequalities.
According to the National Student Clearinghouse, the drop in community college enrolment was most pronounced among Black students and Native Americans, groups that both experienced 13 per cent decline over the last year. White and Hispanic community college enrolment fell by 10 per cent and Asian enrolment by 5 per cent.
Advocates hope the enrolment downturn is temporary and some predict many students will return to classes when campuses reopen and jobs return. However, some are expected to forgo higher education, which experts say could translate to a lifetime of lower earnings and financial challenges.
More Americans typically turn to community college education amid economic downturns, seeking to learn new job skills or change careers. But the depth of the pandemic's downturn, which kept many people homebound, seems to have upended usual trends, education experts said.
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