College student enrollment drops by more than 1 million, as COVID-19 influences the pivot and more people opt to go straight to work.
Since 2019, the total enrollment for college undergraduates has fallen to 1,025,600 undergraduates. According to new data released Thursday, this past fall, college enrollment dropped by 465,000 students.
“It’s very frightening,” says Doug Shapiro, the leader behind the National Student Clearinghouse research center, NPR reports. “Far from filling the hole of [2020’s] enrollment declines, we are still digging it deeper.”
Over the course of the pandemic, the country’s community colleges have seen a decline by 13 percent. The lowest it’s been in 50 years. The new information shows that undergraduate students at four-year colleges make up at least half of the decline.
“The phenomenon of students sitting out of college seems to be more widespread. It’s not just the community colleges anymore,” says Shapiro. “That could be the beginning of a whole generation of students rethinking the value of college itself. I think if that were the case, this is much more serious than just a temporary pandemic-related disruption.”
And only two percent of 2020 high school graduates decided to enroll in college following the pandemic gap year, in 2021. “The easiest assumption is that they’re out there working,” says Shapiro, per NPR. “Unemployment is down. The labor market is good. Wages are rising for workers in low-skilled jobs. So if you have a high school diploma, this seems like a pretty good time to be out there making some money.”