Undergraduate enrollment at Texas schools has declined by 4.1% since the spring of 2019. The reason appears to be that students are still scared to get back to class after the pandemic, according to an analysis from the National Student Clearinghouse Research Center.
Aggravated by the 2020 COVID-19 pandemic, the United States has seen a steady decline in undergraduate enrollment for the past decade. The early stages of lockdown and the closing of schools from 2020 to today just accelerated the process. Only 8 states have seen an increase in enrollment in 2022.
The worst years were late 2019 and early 2020, in which schools nationwide had to close their doors and migrate towards temporary remote education (which turned into almost 2 years, half a regular college career). Many students decided to drop out until the pandemic was over or were hesitant to enroll. That added to the students who could not continue via remote learning and had to drop out altogether.
This brings many consequences: universities are seeing a loss in revenue, and those colleges that are more affordable and accessible are the ones that are suffering the most. Many two-year colleges reported a 13.2% drop from 2019 to 2022.
Other effects include the reduction of state funding for universities, using the excuse that fewer students are attending. This again affects especially community colleges, which are less expensive and a more viable option for those who can’t afford an Ivy League degree or private college tuition.
Yet numbers show that there has been a decline in undergraduate enrollments in the country since 2012. Comparing the fall of 2011 to the fall of 2019, 2011 had around 2.3 million more students enrolled for a college course than what figures show for 2019, and the tendency continues to drop.
According to NPR, the reason for this steady decline is the strong economy. As the economy gets better, more people opt to work and make an income than to spend that time in college. Another reason is the changing demographics in the country, with lower birth rates and thus fewer young people enrolling in college.
Lastly, the cost of college in the United States cannot be ignored. It is one of the countries worldwide with the highest costs for students, and states are putting less money into higher education. Tuitions continue to rise, and grants and scholarships are scarce. The reality is that it is getting harder for people to be able to pay for their college degree, and forever staying in student debt with the current salaries and work conditions is appealing to few.
An example is Austin Community College, which saw a 15% decline in enrollment from 2019 to 2022, according to data from Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board. From 2020 to 2021 the school lost around 32,890 students.
But according to Melissa Curtis, Austin Community College’s associate vice chancellor of enrollment management, in an interview for Axos, while they did see a decline in enrollment for traditional courses, there is still a demand for other programs like fast-track credentials or more hands-on programs.