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Community college enrollment rebounds after pandemic drop

There are over 1,000 two-year colleges in the U.S., and according to data, around 10 million students are enrolled.
Community college enrollment rebounds after pandemic drop
Posted at 10:43 AM, May 31, 2023

Tucked deep in the White Mountains of New Hampshire, far away from any big city, Chuck Lloyd has a front-row seat to a nationwide shift in higher education.

Lloyd is the president of White Mountains Community College in Berlin, New Hampshire. The total enrollment of students here is about 700, from very diverse demographics.

"We just had graduation last week; we graduated a 16-year-old and a 64-year-old," Lloyd said.

But like many other community colleges, this small school is filling a critical need for the local economy.

"People look to us to offer that workforce training," he added.

Between the fall enrollment of 2019 and 2022, there was a 17% drop in enrollment at public two-year colleges in the U.S., according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

However, community college enrollment nationwide is starting to grow again.

According to data from the National Student Clearinghouse Research Center, there is a 2.1% increase in enrollment this spring.

There are 1,038 two-year colleges in the U.S., and according to the American Association of Community Colleges, 10.2 million students are enrolled.

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"I think we need to look at this generation of students differently. They consume education differently than you or I did," said Martha Parham with the American Association of Community Colleges.

Parham said affordability is one of the biggest factors driving the shift.

"Students are really looking at what am I going to get for my money," she noted.

There are other factors driving up enrollment. In many rural communities, students are looking to get higher education training while still maintaining a full-time job. Many students are also looking for training or technical programs that can get them out into the workforce quickly, especially at a time when starting salaries are high.

"What we're finally starting to see is an uptick that is a recognition of the value community colleges play," explained Nate Mackinnon with the Massachusetts Association of Community Colleges.


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