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California sees sharp drop in spring university enrollment

California leads the country with the largest drop in enrollment in spring 2021, largely due to a sharp drop in community college students, who have particularly struggled with the pandemic’s hardships, according to a report released Thursday.

The state’s overall enrollment at community colleges and universities fell by about 123,000 students – the largest numerical drop of any state. The percentage decrease was 5.3% The numerical drop reflects California’s stature as the most populous state, but ignores the entire loss, the researchers said.

College enrollments across the country fell by 3.5% – or roughly 603,000 students – from spring 2020 to spring 2021, marking the largest drop on record with the National Student Clearinghouse Research Center, which has been tracking higher education enrollment and degree data since 2011 The calculation takes into account a drop in undergraduate students. and an increase in the number of graduate students, according to the organization’s report.

“California is doing less than the national averages by 1 or 2 percentage points in terms of declines this spring compared to last year,” said Doug Shapiro, executive director of the organization.

The decline in community college students accounts for the vast majority of California’s loss, which is in line with a national trend as community college enrollments have been hit hardest by the pandemic. About 476,000 students, or 65% of the total national losses in spring undergraduate enrollment, occurred in the community college sector, according to the report.

Spring losses at California community colleges follow a similar pattern to fall 2020, when enrollment fell 12% from fall 2019. Additionally, students had to register for the spring semester then as the state has seen its biggest and most devastating increase in COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations.

“The pandemic upset student life in a multitude of ways that made it difficult, if not impossible, for many of them to continue their university education, ”said Paul Feist, spokesperson for California Community College Chancellor Eloy Ortiz Oakley. Feist described the myriad of challenges students face.

According to a survey of state community college students, 41% faced a job change during the pandemic; about 19% saw their working hours cut and 22% were made redundant or put on leave, Feist said. More than half of the students said their income had declined. About 57% faced basic needs insecurity – a group disproportionately made up of students of color.

New Mexico experienced the largest percentage decline in college and university enrollment, at 11.4%; Michigan was among the top five states with a 6.4% drop. Looking at country by region, the South recorded the smallest drop in enrollment at 1.9%. The West was next with a 3.7% drop, followed by the Northeast with a 4% drop and the Midwest with a 4.1% drop.

Seven states – New Hampshire, Utah, West Virginia, Nebraska, Virginia, Idaho and Maryland – saw an increase in registrations.

The decline in the number at the community college level is due to various factors, Shapiro said. Transfers from community colleges to four-year institutions explain part of the decline. But the most significant factor has been a drop in fall and spring enrollment among high school students in the class of 2020. Additionally, while a recession typically pushes older students back to community colleges, this was not the case this time.

“Literally every previous recession has resulted in a significant increase in the number of older students entering community colleges. This recession has completely shattered that mold, ”Shapiro said. “There is no proof of these millions of unemployed – they will not go to college.”

A continued decline in enrollment could result in decreased funding for community colleges nationwide, resulting in fewer classes, support services and further reductions over time, said Thomas Brock, director of Community College Research Center.

“I think one of the biggest fears I have, and other leaders, is that this could quickly turn into a downward spiral,” Brock said. “It would be the worst case scenario. “

Many of those who work in essential industries, including construction, manufacturing, and healthcare, have education, training, and vocational certifications at community colleges.

“One of California’s most valuable assets is our human capital in the state that drives the entertainment industry, which drives Silicon Valley and Silicon Beach,” said Audrey Dow, senior vice president of campaign for academic opportunities. “If we don’t have a strong pipeline of individuals coming from our colleges and universities, this is all at risk.

It’s too early to tell if the trend among community colleges will reverse in the fall, when campuses across the country reopen more for in-person learning.

California State University, the largest four-year system in the country, had a record high overall enrollment in fall 2020, although the number of new freshmen has declined dramatically and enrollments have plummeted over some northern California campuses. UC enrollments in fall 2020 generally remained stable for Californians, but declined for non-residents.

Brock is optimistic about improved fall enrollment nationwide, in large part due to the waning pandemic and the accessibility of vaccinations. But it will take work.

“The community colleges I’ve spoken to don’t approach this passively,” he said. “They are worried about it and try to redouble their efforts to make it clear that they are open and back in business.”

In California, recruitment efforts are underway to increase retention at community colleges for the coming semester.

“Retaining and attracting more students will be vital to California’s economic recovery and long-term well-being,” Feist said.

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