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Why fewer adults enrolled in community colleges this fall
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Community colleges were expecting an increase in enrollment as people struggled to find work this fall. So it came as a surprise when enrollment dropped nearly 10% overall.
Economic downturns, historically, have led to increased enrollment at community colleges. According to a 2018 U.S. Census report, two-year college enrollment grew by 33% nationwide from 2006 to 2011 — the period leading up to, during and after the Great Recession.
“In past economic recessions, community colleges got a boost in enrollment, driven by adult students,” said Amy Moreland, director of policy at the Tennessee Board of Regents, which oversees the state’s two-year colleges and trade schools.
The financial woes caused by the pandemic, however, brought new issues for students. Like technology barriers, Moreland said, and the lack of child care, which was exacerbated because many public school districts didn’t open at the start of the school year. These factors, she said, likely caused some adult students to pause their own education to help their children.
This fall, with the pandemic, community college enrollment is down nearly 10% nationwide, according to the National Student Clearinghouse Research Center.
Juggling college in a single-parent household
“If I were able to take a break from school this semester, I most certainly would have,” said Annisha Thomas, a student at Nashville State Community College. “I would not have gone back.”
But, she said she couldn’t take a break because her scholarship program requires steady enrollment. Thomas is in her mid-30s and works at a Tennessee Waffle House. Like many adult students, she’s had to juggle paying the bills and putting food on the table for her two children.
And now that her daughter’s school district is operating virtually because of COVID-19, Thomas has also basically been her daughter’s home-school teacher.
“My job starts at 7 o’clock. My kid had to go to a babysitter. I’d get off at 2 o’clock,” Thomas said. “Then I’d go pick up my child and me and my 7-year-old had to do school at 3:30 in the afternoon.”
Thomas said, overall, the transition caused by the pandemic has been rough, especially when it came to taking her own online classes while helping her daughter get through virtual schooling.
These kinds of barriers for adult students during the pandemic led some colleges, like Nashville State, to try and make classes more accessible to students.
“We, for this fall, for the first time as a college, have a laptop loaner program,” said Shanna Jackson, the president of Nashville State Community College. “So that if you don’t have technology, we’re going to make sure that you have it.”
Despite a decrease in enrollment compared to last year, said Jackson, the school has offered more support to adult students. Now, in 2021, Jackson said, the college will be looking at ways to shorten the amount of time it takes to get an associate degree.
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