A year after the COVID pandemic, American colleges and universities suffered the largest drop in enrollment in a decade, with 603,000 fewer Americans enrolled in colleges or universities than last year.
That equates to a 3.5% decline in the number of college students, seven times the year-on-year decline seen in spring 2020 at the start of the pandemic, according to a study by the National Student Clearinghouse Research Center (NSCRC).
Doug Shapiro, executive director of the NSCRC, points to the COVID crisis as the main driver pushing students to forego college education. “The final estimates for spring enrollment confirm the impact of the pandemic on students and colleges this year,” he says.
However, the effect was not uniform everywhere. For example, in Massachusetts, institutions in the four-year private, not-for-profit category, which includes Harvard University, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, and a number of other private colleges attended by wealthy students, saw only a 1.1% decrease, while the public four-year colleges saw a 2.5% decrease.
In contrast, institutions like the public universities of New Mexico and the private colleges and universities of South Dakota saw a 7.1% and 10% decrease, respectively, while community colleges across the country saw a 9.5% decrease .
This discrepancy comes as no surprise to Tuitionfit CEO Mark Salisbury, who provides college and university students with the financial information they need to make informed decisions about which schools to apply to.
“The impact of COVID just keeps getting bigger as you descend the socio-economic ladder. The more affluent the institution, the more affluent the students, the less likely they are to quit.
“The less wealthy, the more dependent on Pell Grants [US federal education grant] and other financing, are more vulnerable. Often times they don’t have the broadband connection that is required for the internet and the institutions they go to don’t really have the ability to do well online classes, ”he says.
Salisbury cited numbers like the staggering 14.8% drop in “bums in the seats,” the admissions officer acronym for enrolled students suffered by Massachusetts community colleges, Salisbury said University world news: “It’s a very different planet in four-year schools than in community colleges.”
The New York State community college system has seen a nearly 10% decline in student numbers. These schools provide technical education and are increasingly serving as “pipelines” to four-year facilities for poor students and, in downtown America, for minority students.
“Everyone expected enrollments in community colleges to skyrocket; That clearly didn’t happen, ”said Martha Parham, senior vice president of public relations for the American Association of Community Colleges Inside Higher Ed.
Nationwide, the number of graduates even rose by 4.6%. In contrast, the number of new students at four-year universities fell by 4.9% or 727,000 students. Compared to the previous year, almost 476,000 places at community colleges were vacant. The vast majority of these students come from the 18- to 24-year-old cohort. A whopping 13.2% of high school graduates, around 365,000, have chosen not to enroll in a community college.
Salisbury says these people have not turned their backs on the longstanding belief that education is the ticket to a job or career.
He imagines one of these students thinking, “If I paid the same amount and sat in a room with a professor, even if I had to take the bus or train, I wouldn’t ask if it was worth it in the same way Wise.
“But when the professor doesn’t understand technology like Zoom and my phone doesn’t always pick it up because I’m trying to use my phone as a hotspot, and so do everyone else in the damn apartment I live in.” paralyzed format worth the price they ask of me? “
California lost more than 21,000 students and more than 100,000 community college students. New York, which was hit harder than any other state during the first wave of COVID and suffered more than 53,000 deaths, now has 29,000 fewer students and nearly 30,000 fewer community college students than it did a year ago. Other states with lots of empty chairs are Michigan, Illinois, Pennsylvania, New Mexico, Delaware, and Kansas.
The pandemic has accelerated the decline in student numbers in the humanities. In spring 2019, the last full year before the COVID crisis, the number of English majors was down 4.8% year on year. Between 2019 and 2020, the number of English majors fell by a further 5%, or nearly 7,000 students.
Last year, NSCRC reported that English majors were down another 10.2%, or 13,000 students. The history departments have done a little better, losing 1.7% of their students between 2018 and 2019, 2.4% between 2019 and 2020, and 4.1% of their students in the latest report.
One reason for this decline is student concern about the cost of a four-year humanities degree and the role it represents in the job market.
“I think students studying humanities are really wondering how it’s going to pay off,” Shapiro says. “In the United States, we have graduate earnings data by institution and major, and these fields don’t look good in these numbers, especially because earnings metrics are measured a relatively short time after graduation.”
Surprisingly, the NSCRC’s report also shows an accelerated decline in enrollment in many STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) courses. After two years with an average decrease of 1.5%, mechanical engineering has recorded a decrease of 3.5% compared to the previous year since 2020.
The number of students in science courses fell by 4.6% in 2019 and 4.7% in 2020; this year it fell by nearly 10,000, or 7.6%. Similarly, after two years, with a 1.2% decrease, this year’s numbers show that math and statistics programs have 2.5% fewer enrollments.
While one reason for the decline in physics and engineering students is the reluctance of students to enroll or stay in programs during a time when they have limited access to laboratories, Shapiro points out a deeper reason.
“These are still very male-dominated fields. And we know that men are more affected by the pandemic than women. “
Overall, the number of men enrolled in higher education fell by 400,000 or 5.5%, while the number of women enrolled fell by 2% or 203,000. At four-year universities, the decline among male students was almost four times as high as that among women: 2.4% to 0.65%.
Some states are bucking the trend
Enrollment has not decreased in every federal state. New Hampshire saw the number of post-secondary students increase 10.8% since last year, while Utah saw a 4.7% increase. West Virginia, one of the poorest states in the country, also bucked the national trend, with student numbers increasing by 2.8% year over year.
As a flagship university in a small state, West Virginia University is used to facing demographic challenges. West Virginia University’s executive director of admissions and recruitment, George Zimmerman, said the university – which attracts students from neighboring states of Pennsylvania, Ohio, Virginia, and Kentucky in addition to West Virginia – expects student numbers to remain constant at 21,000.
In order to keep this year’s first-semester class at the previous year’s level of 4,900, the university has implemented an ambitious virtual recruitment program. The virtual university fairs are similar to online specialist conferences with presentations, chat rooms or zoom rooms and hold one-on-one discussions with representatives of the university to obtain information.
These, along with virtual high school visits and virtual open houses and webinars, combined with traditional telephone contact, contributed to the university’s enrollment.
The virtual contact had an unexpected effect: it attracted students outside the primary and secondary markets of West Virginia University (from mid-Atlantic states such as New York, New Jersey, and Maryland).
“We’re seeing student deposits grow 5% to 7% outside of our primary and secondary recruitment markets,” said Zimmermanman University world news.