COVID-19

College enrollment overall has dipped, but it’s down significantly at community colleges

Mitchell Hartman Oct 16, 2020
Heard on: Marketplace Morning Report
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College enrollment is down just 4% compared to last year, according to the National School Clearinghouse Research Center. But the drop-off is much steeper when it comes to first-year students and those at community colleges. Ethan Miller/Getty Images
COVID-19

College enrollment overall has dipped, but it’s down significantly at community colleges

Mitchell Hartman Oct 16, 2020
College enrollment is down just 4% compared to last year, according to the National School Clearinghouse Research Center. But the drop-off is much steeper when it comes to first-year students and those at community colleges. Ethan Miller/Getty Images
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We’re about a month into the fall semester, and it’s been kind of a roller coaster with COVID. According to a survey out from lender Sallie Mae, just 7% of college students are on campus attending classes fully in person. Around half of students are being taught exclusively online. The rest are doing some hybrid combination.

And there are new college enrollment numbers out that show the return of students this fall hasn’t been evenly distributed among schools.

With the pandemic raging this summer, college administrators didn’t even know how many students would pay tuition and show up for classes —whether in person or online.

Well, now the numbers are in.

“Compared to expectations, really not so bad,” said Doug Shapiro at the National School Clearinghouse Research Center.

Shapiro said college enrollment is down just 4% compared to last year.

“That’s encouraging that most students who were already in college were able to stay enrolled, despite the pandemic and all the online and everything else,” he said.

But first-year enrollment is down more than 16%. And at community colleges, it’s down by nearly 25%.

“This is concerning and quite frankly surprising given the easier access you have into community college and the lower price point,” said Emily Wadhwani, who covers higher education at Fitch Ratings.

Wadhwani said the decline likely reflects job- and income-loss among low- and middle-income households. She said many community college students depend on work to pay tuition.

COVID-19 Economy FAQs

New COVID-19 cases and deaths in the U.S. are on the rise. How are Americans reacting?

Johns Hopkins University reports the seven-day average of new cases hit 68,767 on Sunday  — a record — eclipsing the previous record hit in late July during the second, summer wave of infection. A funny thing is happening with consumers though: Even as COVID-19 cases rise, Americans don’t appear to be shying away from stepping indoors to shop or eat or exercise. Morning Consult asked consumers how comfortable they feel going out to eat, to the shopping mall or on a vacation. And their willingness has been rising. Surveys find consumers’ attitudes vary by age and income, and by political affiliation, said Chris Jackson, who heads up polling at Ipsos.

How many people are flying? Has traveled picked up?

Flying is starting to recover to levels the airline industry hasn’t seen in months. The Transportation Security Administration announced on Oct. 19 that it’s screened more than 1 million passengers on a single day — its highest number since March 17. The TSA also screened more than 6 million passengers last week, its highest weekly volume since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic. While travel is improving, the TSA announcement comes amid warnings that the U.S. is in the third wave of the coronavirus. There are now more than 8 million cases in the country, with more than 219,000 deaths.

How are Americans feeling about their finances?

Nearly half of all Americans would have trouble paying for an unexpected $250 bill and a third of Americans have less income than before the pandemic, according to the latest results of our Marketplace-Edison Poll. Also, 6 in 10 Americans think that race has at least some impact on an individual’s long-term financial situation, but Black respondents are much more likely to think that race has a big impact on a person’s long-term financial situation than white or Hispanic/Latinx respondents.

Find the rest of the poll results here, which cover how Americans have been faring financially about six months into the pandemic, race and equity within the workplace and some of the key issues Trump and Biden supporters are concerned about.

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