Currently, more than one million less students are enrolled in the university than they were before the pandemic began. According to new data released Thursday, US universities lost nearly 500,000 undergraduates in the fall of 2021, continuing the historic decline that began in the previous fall.
“That’s very scary,” says Doug Shapiro, who heads the National Student Clearinghouse Research Center, where the new data comes from. “It’s far from filling the hole [2020’s] Registration is reduced, but we are still digging deeper into it. “
Compared to the fall of 2019, the last fall semester before the coronavirus pandemic, the total number of undergraduate enrollments has dropped by 6.6%. This represents the largest two-year decline in more than 50 years, says Shapiro.
Community colleges across the country have seen a 13% decline in enrollment during the pandemic process and continue to feel most of the decline. However, the fall 2021 figures show that bachelor’s degrees from four-year colleges account for about half of the reduction in undergraduates. This is a major change from the fall of 2020, when most of the decline was in associate degrees. ..
“The phenomenon of students graduating from college seems to be more widespread, and it’s no longer just community colleges,” says Shapiro. “It may be the beginning of all generations of students rethinking the value of the university itself. If so, I think this is far more serious than just a temporary pandemic-related mess.”
Enrollment in graduate programs, which increased in the fall of 2020, declined slightly, dropping by nearly 11,000 in the fall of 2021.
Overall, enrollment in undergraduate and graduate programs has been declining since around 2012, but the pandemic has helped to reduce it at the undergraduate level.
Many expected that undergraduate students who chose to take a year off in 2020 would return in 2021, especially given the expanding opportunities for face-to-face learning.But the pandemic gap year is a myth: National Student Clearinghouse found That of a 2020 high school graduate who chose not to enter college after graduation, Only 2% A year later, I will be enrolled in the fall of 2021.
“The simplest assumption is that they are working there,” says Shapiro. “The unemployment rate is declining. The labor market is good. The wages of unskilled workers are rising. Therefore, if you have a high school diploma, this is there to make money. But it seems like a pretty good time. “
Wages at the bottom of the economy have risen dramatically, making minimum-wage jobs particularly attractive to young people as an alternative to college.For example, in December, a non-managerial job working in leisure or hospitality I paid more than 15% more than a year ago, According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.
“It’s very attractive to high school graduates, but there is a fear that they may be trading short-term profits for long-term losses,” says Shapiro. “And the longer they leave college, the more life begins to happen and the harder it is to think about returning to the classroom.”
Difficult to give up salary
For Brian Williams, who graduated from high school early in the pandemic, the long-term plan is to go to college.
he Postponement of registration He was fed up with distance learning, so in 2020. Instead, he got a job at Jimmy John’s sandwich shop near his home in the suburbs of Houston, so he was able to start saving. When he enrolled in the fall 2021 class, he postponed again — he said he was more interested in finding a job that would pay more than giving up much of his salary to go to school. say. In August, Williams left Jimmy Johns to get a job in an Amazon warehouse. His hourly wage surged $ 4.50.
“I feel safer than the money I’m earning,” he says. He buys a car to get in and out of a new job and works to pay it off.
For Williams, enrolling in college means he needs to save time and make less money. more Money to pay for the class.
“It’s very difficult,” he says. “I feel like,’When I go to school, I can’t take a day off and pay for what I need.’” “”
He was toying with the idea of starting a community college in the New Year, but now he’s thinking of starting next fall to give him another eight months to save.
He knows he doesn’t want to work at Amazon forever.
“This job gives me the money I need, but it’s not enough for what I want and what I see. [for] What you or you want. So I have to graduate from college. “
Short-term benefits of high hourly wages and long-term benefits of a degree
A dramatic drop in college enrollment can cause problems not only for opt-out Americans, but also for families. Studies show that even with post-secondary education Higher wages, lower unemployment rate And a bigger lifetime income.of One study A bachelor’s degree from Georgetown University found that “75% more than just having a high school diploma, earning a median of $ 2.8 million during a career.”
“It may be great for people to find a job in the short term,” says researcher Tolani Britton. The wages will be supported by his own family 15 years from now. What is the impact on the socio-economic mobility of the individual and the children? “
Britton, who studies the economics of higher education at the University of California, Berkeley, has many other benefits, including increased potential for public participation, reduced infant mortality, improved maternal health, and reduced potential. It states that it is related to higher education, among other things, being uncontained or experiencing food insecurity.
Many of these social benefits result from high wages and improved financial stability throughout life. Long-term rewards can be difficult to prioritize over short-term wins, such as making a little money now.
“After all, you’re getting one wage today, but ten years from now, they might really look alike,” Britton explains. “Maybe there isn’t the growth people expect when they get a higher education.”
However, Britton also understands that when trying to meet today’s needs, it can be difficult to make decisions about future needs.
“People are in a difficult economic situation,” she says. ” [pandemic] The recovery was very uneven. “
Moreover, Theme That Were present These challenges didn’t go anywhere before the pandemic of low-income students, colored students, and the first college students in the family.
“Community colleges are traditionally schools that enroll low-income students, so we can infer that community colleges are the ones that are largely influenced and still the most distant,” says Shapiro.
National Student Clearing House I saw a high school graduate in 2020, It found that low-income school students, like high school students, attend college less often.
“The gap in access to college between high-income and low-income students has widened,” says Shapiro.
The U.S. economy feels the long-term impact of a decline in college graduates
The fewer people go to college, the fewer people will graduate with the skills, qualifications, and degrees required for a high-paying job. And it resonates throughout the US economy.
“The direct loss to the economy is the workers themselves,” explains Tony Carnebert, director of the Education and Labor Center at Georgetown University. “If they are trained and ready, they will get higher paid jobs, add more to GDP, make us all richer, increase taxes, reduce welfare costs, crime costs, etc. increase.”
As workers earn higher wages, their local economy also benefits. Carnevale explains: “When you hire a crane operator, the crane operator goes to buy groceries. Therefore, the grocery store clerk has a job.”
More and more jobs in the United States require post-secondary training, Carnibert says. It makes college graduates much more valuable to the economy.
Country before the pandemic There was already a skill gap,At work Sitting in the sky The company could not find a qualified worker. Over the last decade, community colleges have worked to fill that gap and have partnered with local businesses to combine training with employer needs.
However, according to Carnevale, lowering community college enrollment means that the gap is widening, which has a negative impact on business.
“If you can’t literally find people to work in that business, you can’t run your business,” says Britton of the University of California, Berkeley.
And when businesses are struggling, she says. “It affects lower tax revenues, higher prices for goods and services, delays in the production of services and goods as seen during a pandemic, and many of them worsen when few people do the job. I just do it. “
Decreased college enrollment has a combined impact on the economy, as it has economic implications at so many levels, including individuals, communities, businesses, and society as a whole.
It is unclear exactly how to deal with these economic spillover effects. Universities, as part of that Launch a re-entry program When Create a new incentive to register.. Valencia College, a community college that serves approximately 50,000 students in Orlando, Florida, has waived application fees, extended deadlines, and allowed returning students to retake classes for free.For students Failed the course they were forced to take online, It gave them a $ 500 scholarship and was able to come back and take another class directly when things were opened.
Shapiro of the National Student Clearinghouse says that if workers are not eligible for the best jobs, the local economy suffers and the local community is most at risk when someone postpones college.
“It’s in these communities that it’s insisted that college offerings are worthwhile and that it’s important for students to invest in future employability, skills and training,” he said.
Is he tired of this bad news?
Does he think these low college enrollment rates are new and normal?
“That’s a scary idea. I certainly hope not, but I think we’ll see.”
Americans choose jobs over college: NPR
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