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First time enrollment at community colleges is down at an all time low of 21%, and many continuing students have not yet returned due to the COVID pandemic, studies from 2020-2021 show. 

As students face a number of challenges, school seems to have been temporarily put to the side for many. Universities, state schools and community colleges alike all seem to be experiencing these same issues of declining enrollment, though community colleges have experienced the worst decline. Even locally, colleges like Las Positas have also been hit hard, experiencing a drop at 8.26%, according to Dr. Tom Orf of the Chabot Las Positas Community College District Enrollment Board.

“We ended up canceling over 100 classes this semester. That is the most I’ve ever seen,” said Orf at the February Town Hall Meeting for the CLPCCD. Due to the pandemic, many students may be experiencing financial issues, family troubles and trouble with online learning. Helping with family financial demands and not having enough funds to cover tuition seem to be the top reasons students have either dropped out or have not enrolled for the first time. 

When the pandemic hit, many assumed that students would abandon four-year universities in droves and register for community colleges, in order to save money and not to waste on more expensive tuition. Community college is a place where people can learn basic skills for a job during a hard market crash. This wasn’t the case. 

“This is the first time in the last eight years that we have seen a decline in the total number of students earning their first undergraduate credential, and it has been driven by drops in associate degree and certificate earners,” said Doug Shapiro, Executive Director of the National Student Clearinghouse Research Center, which covers enrollment trends in Community Colleges across America. 

Among older students seeking a 2-year degree, enrollment has dropped 10%, as many of them may be struggling with lost jobs, trying to find work, or supervising their own children also taking virtual learning classes. 

Community colleges are often geared toward students who may be lower-income, undecided on a major, or are returning students attempting to graduate with a degree. These types of people are the ones who are being the hardest hit by the pandemic and have experienced significant money and time loss. 

“The majority of them are working, many of them in industries that have been decimated by the pandemic,” said Martha Parham, a senior vice president for the American Association of Community Colleges. “Trying to navigate that and take classes is a very daunting challenge at this time.”

The online learning system has clearly hit Community college students the hardest. Many of them may not have long-term access to the tools needed. What worked for the remainder of Spring and Fall 2020 may not be as prudent for another semester in 2021.

These numbers have significantly highlighted racial and social gaps in the college system. Not only did general numbers drop 21%, but among Hispanic communities, numbers dropped even lower, between 28-29%.

These trends are completely contrary to what has previously been seen during any economic crash in the past, where numbers usually spike at Community Colleges. 

“Community colleges have got to get their act together. Covid is accelerating all the challenges they were facing beforehand and intensifying the competition they’re facing,” said Davis Jenkins of the Community College Research Center. 

Hopefully, numbers can begin to rise in the coming semesters, and Community Colleges can figure out smarter ways to steady enrollment. 

Renae Machuca is a staff writer for The Express. Follow her @renaeextra.

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