Undergraduate student enrollment declines affect many

Undergraduate student enrollment declined this fall. There are multiple reasons why this has happened, but whatever the reason the effects are the same. Lower student enrollment makes it harder for individuals to have the knowledge and skills they need for work. Lower student enrollments make it more challenging for the country to have a diverse workforce that is ready to meet post pandemic challenges. Lower student enrollments will also make it more difficult for the country to meet Lumina Foundation’s Goal 2025 and for the economy to rebound after COVID-19.

Data from The National Student Clearinghouse Research Center shows that undergraduate enrollments declined 4 percent this fall at all types of higher education institutions. Community colleges, which serve many adult students, had the biggest decline at 9.4 percent, as of September 24.  This enrollment decline could predict problems for businesses building a workforce that can adapt quickly to emerging technology; community colleges offer short-term enrollments and courses workers need to learn new skills quickly. Enrollments for undergraduate certificates fell by 8.9 percent and enrollment for associate degrees fell by 8.7 percent.

Adult students over the age of 25 make up a large number of those who did not enroll in school this fall. Students over age 25 made up 53 percent of the enrollment decline at two-year public schools and almost 43 percent of the decline at four-year public schools. There are several reasons undergraduate student enrollments of adults may be declining. A Public Viewpoint poll from Strada’s Center for Consumer Insights shows that about half of respondents worry about daily living expenses such as rent and food. They also have family responsibilities such as childcare. The poll also showed that less than a third of adults without college degrees completely understand the costs of higher education or how to access financial aid.

This means that many adults in their prime working years are not continuing their education, learning new skills, or preparing for work in the future. This makes a roadblock for many who will need new skills to keep up with changes that are occurring in the workplace. Remote work, loss of personal contact with customers, automated work environments are all the result of changing work conditions brought about by COVID-19. To thrive in these new conditions adults need to arm themselves with skills that will make them successful in new working conditions. And for businesses to prosper after the pandemic they need to build a skilled workforce. Tuition assistance can encourage employees to pursue education without additional financial burden. Providing tuition assistance will also show employers which employees can adapt to change and are ready to move forward. Tuition assistance as a resource to encourage undergraduate student enrollment can be a key to business prosperity.

Declines in undergraduate student enrollment also make it difficult for national economic recovery. This fall declines in undergraduate student enrollment reached across all demographic groups. Undergraduate enrollments of Native Alaskans and American Indians fell 10.7 percent, enrollments of Blacks and Whites fell 7.9 and 7.6 percent, Hispanic enrollments fell 6.1 percent and Asian enrollments fell 4 percent. Enrollment declines affect these people individually, lowering their employment opportunity and options following the pandemic.

These declines also affect the economic growth and recovery of the country as a whole. To reach the Lumina Goal 2025 with 60 percent of individuals having a meaningful credential or degree, people across all demographic groups need to pursue higher education. The country will have a stronger recovery when all ethnic groups can participate fully in the economy.

Tuition assistance is a powerful resource for businesses to help turn around the falling undergraduate student enrollment. Tuition assistance makes it possible for adult students to attend school without additional financial burden. With the economic hardship many people have been facing, tuition assistance can be the incentive that helps them learn skills they need for their current and future employment. Tuition assistance is also the best way for businesses to build their workforce. Investing in employees and encouraging them to build the skills to make businesses resilient and competitive, makes businesses and the economy stronger. Tuition assistance can help reverse undergraduate student enrollment declines and strengthen all demographic groups. This makes it possible for all sectors to contribute to and be part of economic recovery following the pandemic.

By Adrienne Way, Edcor CEO and owner