January 18, 2023
Recently released federal higher education data show community college enrollment trends during the first two years of the pandemic differed based on the age of the students, according to a new analysis by the Community College Research Center at Columbia University’s Teachers College. The analysis found that community college enrollments fell steeply over all, but the greatest declines were among recent high school graduates. Older adults experienced declines as well, continuing a trend of the last decade.
Some community colleges notably bucked the trends, however, and experienced steady or increasing enrollment. Further, the number of high school students taking dual-enrollment courses continued to grow in most states.
The analysis, shared in a blog post last week, draws on new fall 2021 enrollment data from the Integrated Postsecondary Education Data System, made public in late December. The federal enrollment data are only reported disaggregated by age in odd-numbered years, so they now offer a more nuanced and granular picture of what happened to community college enrollment in those initial pandemic years.
John Fink, senior research associate and program lead at CCRC, said the differences in enrollment patterns among different age groups have implications for how colleges might recoup their losses going forward.
There’s value to “tailoring outreach and support for each of these groups,” he said.
The data show community colleges enrolled 850,000 fewer students nationally in fall 2021 compared to fall 2019, including significant drops among students of color. Notably, Hispanic student enrollment, which was increasing prior to the pandemic, fell 12 percent over all. But 15 states increased Hispanic student enrollment during this period and Georgia, Ohio, New Hampshire and Vermont had double-digit percentage increases, according to the analysis.