Community Colleges See Enrollment Drop During Pandemic

In Connecticut, overall undergraduate enrollment dropped 5.3% since 2019, and community college enrollment is down 15%.

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The state is offering more programs to allow people to get the training and skills they need without going to college.

Higher education is not the only option to get a good job, and schools are feeling the impact of that. A new survey from the National Student Clearinghouse Research Center shows the biggest drop in college enrollment nationwide in 50 years.

In Connecticut, undergraduate enrollment dropped 5.3% since 2019, and community colleges are actually feeling the impact the most, despite the fact that they often have the least expensive price tag and more flexibility.

"When Covid hit, it's certainly impacted our students, disproportionately, I would say, than many populations, because especially at the community college, we serve a significantly lower income minority population," explained Michael Rooke, president of Northwestern Community College.

Rooke said research is showing that about 40% of college students nationally lost their jobs when the pandemic hit, and when those students had to scramble to find another job, many couldn't afford to go back to school.

"If you're a single parent working two or three jobs, which is not uncommon for a community college student, or you're taking care of family or you had a family member pass away, which is another issue we've seen a lot. You know, college is not your first priority at that point you have to, you have to take care of yourself and your family."

Rooke said in Connecticut, community college enrollment is down 15% since 2019, which amounts to about 9,000 students. Even more concerning - studies show that only 13% of college dropouts come back within five years. But Connecticut's community colleges are trying to change that.

"Think about the long-term future. I mean, I know most people want to take care of the immediate. But you know, there's a significant difference in lifetime earnings for someone with an associate's degree or a bachelor's degree compared to somebody who doesn't have a college degree. And your ability to recover from the Covid pandemic will be tremendously assisted by like going to college," Rooke said.

The Connecticut State College and University System is trying to encourage people to come back to college or sign up for the first time. There are free applications, an enroll-in-a-day event and even free tuition under the Pledge to Advance Connecticut (PACT) Act.

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