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Pandemic Challenges Higher Ed To Reach Enrollment Goals

by NSC Blog | May 12, 2021 | Research Reports, Research Services |

Research Center to Release 3 Reports in June and July to Address Transfer, Enrollment, Persistence and Retention Trends

Even before the pandemic, diminishing demand and rising fees were challenging higher education institutions to achieve enrollment goals. The pandemic, though, has seen even more precipitous declines, creating growing concerns, according to a BusinessNH magazine article.

Dire Higher Ed Enrollment

The National Student Clearinghouse Research Center recently reported that total enrollment in Spring 2021 is down 4.2% compared to a year ago and undergraduate enrollment is down 5.9%. Undergraduate enrollment fell further across all institution types, with community colleges experiencing a double-digit decline for the first time during this pandemic, -11.3% compared to -9.5% last fall.

“The continuing slide in community college enrollments is of great concern,” said Doug Shapiro, Executive Director, National Student Clearinghouse Research Center in a press release about the research. “In a sign of potentially long-lasting impact on the level of skills and credentials in the workforce, there is still no age group showing increases at community colleges, even after a full year of pandemic and related unemployment.”

Moody’s reported that the 2021 outlook for the U.S. higher education sector remains negative as the effects of the coronavirus pandemic continue to threaten revenue streams. The outlook is further impacted by “the length of the health crisis and pace of economic recovery.

The pandemic is also challenging schools’ abilities to do their best because of restrictions on personal visits, campus tours, and other face-to-face, on-site interactions historically used as a primary means of showing off and promoting campus climate, culture, and amenities.

Schools are also concerned about retention, especially in an environment where some students are choosing to take some time off rather than participate in distanced or hybrid learning environments that do not fully reflect the college experience they had hoped for. And gap years can turn permanent rather than temporary situations.

Emerging Areas of Opportunity

While many schools and programs are suffering, others have been able to make pandemic-related adjustments that are achieving results. Healthcare education is one key example.

At Colby-Sawyer College, for instance, the number of first-year nursing students rose from 60 to 100 and is expected to continue to rise, according to BusinessNH Magazine. They report that other niche programs are also seeing enrollment increases: “including short-term training programs such as line worker training, microelectronics, and coding bootcamps.” Community colleges are also appealing to older students, many who are choosing to learn new skills after losing jobs or opting to change course for other reasons.

Debby Scire, president and CEO of the NH College & University Council, told BusinessNH that the pandemic “spurs academics to experiment with programs and technology to keep students engaged and ultimately improve retention and graduation rates.”

To further help institutions, the Research Center will release the following three research reports in June and July, on or around the following dates:

“In a sign of potentially long-lasting impact on the level of skills and credentials in the workforce, there is still no age group showing increases at community colleges, even after a full year of pandemic and related unemployment.”

Doug Shapiro
Executive Director, National Student Clearinghouse Research Center

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