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Why are community college enrollment numbers declining?

Posted March 10, 2020 by

Community college enrollments declined last year by approximately 3.4 percent, which is a staggeringly high number if repeated year after year after year. Why? The reasons are numerous. Allow me to address just a few.

Yes, birthrate 18 years ago was smaller than 19 years ago and that was smaller than 20 years ago. However, those differences were relatively minor at 4,060,000 then 4,030,000 then 4,020,000.

Tuition continues to increase, although some states and schools are now offering free tuition. But the vast majority of schools still charge and charge substantially more than they did 10, 20, or 30 years ago. Some students are simply being priced out. 

The Trump Administration’s immigration policies have greatly reduced the number of visitors, students, workers, and immigrants to the country and not just those whose status is illegal. At College Recruiter, we’ve heard story after story after story of students who received student visas in 2015 and 2016 in a few months and are now waiting more than a year to get their visas so they can complete their education. And these are people who have already been in the country. The wait times for those who have not yet been a student here can be even longer. An MBA admissions director for one of the premiere schools in the country told me that the average wait time for her international students is 14-months, which is more than four times what it was under previous administrations. 

Not often discussed is increased competition for higher education dollars. Until a few years ago, if you wanted to go into software development, your typical choices were to try to find a job without a degree, invest two years in getting an Associate’s degree from a community college, or invest four-years in getting a Bachelor’s degree. In the past few years, enrollment in bootcamps has skyrocketed with hundreds of thousands attending these schools and graduating with certificates and jobs within weeks. The cost per day is far higher, but the total cost is far lower and the placement rates are often excellent.

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