Community Colleges Face Steep Losses in Black Freshmen Enrollment
(Bloomberg) -- Public two-year colleges have seen a 14.8% slump in overall enrollment since the fall of 2019, with the number of Black freshmen falling the most of any other demographic, according to data from the National Student Clearinghouse Research Center released Thursday.
While the rate of decline is slowing compared to last year, it’s not recovered, according to Doug Shapiro, executive director of the research organization. The two-year schools have seen a 32.2% decline in the number of Black freshmen since the fall of 2019, the group’s data as of Oct. 21 show. Experts don’t expect a comeback to occur anytime soon, even as the labor market reflects a need for college-educated workers.
“The challenge for the schools is that the longer students stay out, the less likely it is that they will ever return. Lives, jobs and other obligations get in the way,” said Shapiro. “Community colleges need to provide more services and support to help all of their students stay enrolled and succeed.”
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Community college is often a path to higher, better-paying jobs in the long-term for students. Leaders in the community college field worry not enough is being done to reverse the trends. Just last month, Democrats scaled back President Joe Biden’s economic plan, dropping two years of free community college from the bill. Students typically flock to such institutions during economic downturns, but the pandemic has produced unique obstacles.
While the center doesn’t have data on where these students are going instead of college, Shapiro suspects many are working in low-wage jobs where there’s high demand for employees right now. They’re likely trying to help their families recover from the recession or save enough money to enroll later, he said.
“Unfortunately, we think that many of these students are not going anywhere,” said Thomas Brock, director of the Community College Research Center at Columbia University.
The State University of New York, which has 30 of the state’s two-year schools, saw the biggest drop off in applications from Black and underrepresented students during the pandemic, said Jim Malatras, SUNY chancellor.
California Community Colleges are spending a total of roughly $4 million of their annual outreach budgets from the state on advertising to Black prospective students for fiscal 2021-22. This fall, the 116-college system has seen student enrollment dip below 2 million for the first time in about 30 years, and some of the steepest losses were among Black students, according to EdSource.
In Chicago, Kennedy-King College launched a five-year strategic enrollment plan this year that includes a focus on developing better outcomes for its predominantly Black student population.
“The well-paying jobs of today already demand more, not less, postsecondary education, whether in the form of vocational training, traditional degrees or other certificates and credentials,” Shapiro said. “With fewer students going to college now, it is hard to see how the nation can continue to lead in the economy of the future.”
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