The COVID-19 pandemic has caused enrollment to drop sharply at community colleges across the country, hurting the educational institutes that have historically served as a low-cost alternative to more expensive four-year schools, The New York Times reports.
When compared to last spring, enrollment at over 1,000 two-year colleges has fallen by more than 9%, more than double the drop faced by four-year schools, according to the nonprofit National Student Clearinghouse, which also reported a similar fall last year.
''There’s always been a sense that jobs are going to come back as soon as the numbers go down, so why would you start a degree program?'' Doug Shapiro, executive research director at the Clearinghouse, told the Times.
The drop in enrollment among Black and Hispanic students has been even more severe at two-year colleges, falling by 19% since fall 2019 among Black students and by 16% among Hispanic students in that same time frame, said Shapiro. The American Association of Community Colleges reports that roughly 40% of the students enrolled at community colleges across the country are Black or Hispanic, and almost half are low-income.
''Many of our students come to college with challenges,'' Tracy D. Hall, the president of Memphis’ Southwest Tennessee Community College, told the newspaper. ''Now you add a pandemic to that, it just exacerbates it.''
Tennessee’s community colleges have lost about 10% of their total enrollment in the past year, with Southwest losing about 19% during that time, with about 800 Black men having to pause their education at the school.
''It’s depressing,'' said Russ Deaton, who oversees the state’s community colleges as executive vice chancellor of the Tennessee Board of Regents. ''A lot of the students we’ve lost were loosely tethered to higher education anyway. It didn’t take much to push them out of the education path.''
Rushton W. Johnson, the Knoxville-based Pellissippi State Community College’s vice president of student affairs, added that the pandemic was the ''perfect storm'' for community colleges.
''It’s impossible to learn to weld, drive a truck, cook, draw blood, wire a network online, without handling the equipment and tools,'' he said.
President Joe Biden, whose wife, Dr. Jill Biden, is a community college professor, is likely to propose providing free tuition for two-year colleges in his $3 trillion infrastructure package. The COVID-19 relief plan that Biden signed into law last month included about $40 billion for higher education institutions, including community colleges.
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