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Hot Labor Market Creating Competition for Colleges

by NSC Blog | Jan 31, 2022 | Research Reports

Colleges Find Themselves Competing With Employers as Entry-Level Wages Rise

Community colleges are facing competition from a new front these days — not other community colleges or institutions of higher ed, but employers, per an article in Tucson.com.

As employers find themselves battling to find top talent amid what has been called the “great resignation,” they’re increasing wage rates, even for entry-level workers. Increasingly, people are opting in favor of a job and a regular paycheck over the longer-term promise of better pay, especially as many of these entry-level workers are commanding higher pay than recent college graduates.

As David Arellano, dean of enrollment management at Pima Community College in Tucson, stated in the article, “The workforce is our competition. If they’re not here at Pima they’re in the workforce.” He added: “Poverty is also our competition.”

Pima Community College has been hard hit during the pandemic, with enrollment declines of more than 18% since the pandemic emerged. They’re not alone. According to data from the National Student Clearinghouse, between fall 2019 and fall 2020, two-year colleges saw a nearly 15% drop in enrollment nationwide.

There are several potential drivers behind enrollment declines. Financial considerations certainly top the list. Students are considering not only the lure of an immediate salary but also are avoiding tuition costs and the specter of student loan payments that may loom over them for years.

In addition, both remote learning and in-person classes create angst for some students depending upon whether their concerns are more about isolation or risk of exposure.

Colleges are attempting to address declining enrollment through actions like forgiving outstanding student loan balances; more targeted marketing techniques; the expansion of dual enrollment options; and childcare services available on campus, according to Tucson.com. They’re also ramping up their offerings to focus on in-demand careers that align with student interests. Community colleges may be well-positioned to meet the reskilling needs of students with training designed to address shifting employer demands.

“Our final look at fall 2021 enrollment shows undergraduates continuing to sit out in droves as colleges navigate yet another year of COVID-19,” said Doug Shapiro, Executive Director of the National Student Clearinghouse Research Center in a recent press release. “Without a dramatic re-engagement in their education, the potential loss to these students’ earnings and futures is significant, which will greatly impact the nation as a whole in years to come.”

Arellano hopes prospective students who may be torn between the immediate benefits of entering the workforce and the long-term benefits of pursuing PCC’s offerings will recognize the transformational potential of the latter.

“The workforce is our competition. If they’re not here at Pima they’re in the workforce.”

David Arellano
Dean of enrollment management at Pima Community College in Tucson

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