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Finding Opportunities to Boost Community College Enrollment

by NSC Blog | Jan 9, 2023 | Postsecondary Data Partnership, Research Reports

Declines post-pandemic are creating challenges, but opportunities exist

According to the recent Stay Informed with the Latest Enrollment Information report, undergraduate enrollment declines this fall are evident across all sectors especially among four-year institutions, with a drop of 1.6% at public four-years; 0.9% at private nonprofits; and 2.5% at private for-profits. Declines at community colleges have slowed, with only a 0.4% enrollment loss compared to fall 2021, driven by an 11.5% jump in dual-enrolled high school students.

To help stem their enrollment declines, community colleges must communicate their value with hard data on employment prospects and income potential writes eCampus News. And they need to engage in ongoing self-examination to ensure their programs reflect students’ needs along with the changing demands of the employment landscape.

Factors Contributing to Decline

While the pandemic is an obvious place to point to explain these declines, and did have an impact, it’s not the only impact, according to the author of the eCampus News’ article. Other factors in play include:

  • A decline in birth dates that have been on a downward trend for more than a decade.
  • Job shifts negatively impacting family and student incomes.
  • Child and dependent care demands that conflict with the ability to attend school.
  • Concerns about taking on debt to pay for school costs.
  • A rise in online learning.

In addition, there is growing sentiment questioning the value of higher education, including community college enrollment, in an environment where badges, certificates, and on-the-job training are allowing companies to offer just-in-time learning to help employees stay abreast of new developments in their field and in continually shifting technology advances.

Tackling the Challenges of Declining Enrollment

Amid this environment and facing enrollment declines, there are some things community colleges can do to raise awareness of the value of this type of education and boost enrollment:

  • Use compelling data to objectively illustrate the value of continued education at the community college level to address student concerns about cost and debt.
  • Ensure that program offerings are keeping pace with changing employer needs.
  • Anticipate emerging needs to address jobs of the future.
  • Focus on retention.
  • Reach out to high school students to educate them on the benefits of a community college education.
  • Actively re-recruit former students.
  • Be continually proactive about communicating offerings, future offerings, and plans for ensuring programs remain relevant and competitive.

While the educational and employment landscapes continue to shift, and declines in enrollment are being seen, there are opportunities for community colleges to develop and maintain relationships with key stakeholders to help stem these declines.

Through a focus on the objective benefits of education, meeting student needs, and continued and proactive communication, schools can address enrollment declines and remain beneficial to both students and employers.

To further help your institution, the Clearinghouse’s Postsecondary Data Partnership (PDP) empowers institutions with more comprehensive data, easier analysis, and better visual representations to help you understand, improve, and communicate student momentum, outcomes, and equity.

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