Typically, in a time of economic uncertainty – such as a pandemic - enrollment in community colleges would spike. It can be a cheaper alternative to a four-year private school and more realistic for someone who also needs a part-time job or has to care for their family.
But in this pandemic, community colleges in Connecticut are seeing the opposite: a drastic decline in enrollment. There is some new data from the National Student Clearinghouse Research Center that showed from Spring 2019 to Spring 2021, there was a 5 percent decline in enrollment at public four-year institutions in Connecticut. Over that same time period at public two-year schools, there was a 23 percent decline.
Vice President for Enrollment Management & Student Affairs at Connecticut State Community College Alison Buckley believes the trend is concerning.
“One of the most powerful aspects of community college enrollment is really about, for many students, it's that introductory to post-secondary education, which sets you on a trajectory that not only changes your own economic position, but it really changes the life of a family or the lives of a family. And so we have been very concerned about the number of students who put education on hold during the pandemic, or chose not to even start,” said Buckley.
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Buckley said it is not exactly clear why the pandemic hit community colleges so hard. One thought is that the people who tend to choose those schools are the ones who the pandemic disproportionately impacted.
“There are some folks who are really busy, and even though we've had some true jolts to the economic system are the good news is our unemployment rate is low,” Buckley said. “And so people are busy, and they're working and trying to work education in when you're working a lot of hours is a tough act to balance too.”
“One of the things that that we've done is really focus on retaining the students we have, and working very closely to understand what those barriers are, so that we can support them and ultimately, help them achieve those goals, whatever they may be, it could be a an Associate's Degree that leads to a career in health care, it could be to transfer to a university because they want to spend less on their college education,” Buckley added.
As part of the efforts to retain and recruit students, Connecticut's community colleges have hired more academic advisers.