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While undergraduate enrollment stabilizes, fewer students are studying health care

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A nurse writes on a piece of paper.

Fewer and fewer students are opting to study health care-related majors despite high projected demand for workers. Christopher Furlong/Getty Images

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Undergraduate college enrollment fell 0.6% this past fall from the year before. That’s after two years of bigger declines, according to a report out today from the non-profit National Student Clearinghouse Research Center.

While enrollment seems to be stabilizing generally, the number of undergrads choosing to study health care — a fast-growing field for jobs — is down 4.6%. Health care employment is expected to grow by 13% in the next decade, according to federal projections.

Despite that, the report finds that the number of students in health care-related majors such as nursing fell at every level of study — associate’s, bachelor’s and graduate programs.

Doug Shapiro, executive director of the National Student Clearinghouse Research Center, points out that lots of health care workers left their jobs during the pandemic.

“Some of that kind of sentiment might be spilling over to prospective students as well,” Shapiro said.

That includes students like 19-year-old Layah Garton in Hendersonville, Tennessee, who was planning to become a cardiothoracic or vascular surgeon.

“And then COVID hit, the whole medical field did a complete flip,” Garton said. “And I was like, ‘you know what, let’s do something else that I enjoy and that’s why I’m here.'”

Garton is now in the diesel mechanics program at a technical college in Nashville learning how to operate on motors — instead of people.

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