During the 2000s, college enrollment was at an all-time high. You could definitely assume that community colleges were making bank as the economy was trying to pick itself back up again. But starting in spring 2011, when enrollment was at its highest peak, community colleges in general started the slow decline. Now, according to cbsnews.com, these colleges have lost over 1 million enrollments between 2011 and 2013.
So what happened?
In this issue “Cafe changes coming to main campus” discusses the issue of the enrollment slump with the idea that the economy was in a good place, resulting in students attending a 4-year institution instead, according to Rob Galick who is the vice president of administrative services. Ever since 2010 when the Great Recession ended, two-year colleges have been struggling with declining enrollments according to pbs.org.
However, that cannot be the only reason, and we wanted to discuss that here.
Perhaps students are wondering if college is really worth it and if they’re getting their money’s worth. The cost of college has risen significantly over the years.
According to marketwatch.com, the average price of an undergraduate degree increased by $63,973 dollars, or roughly 161%, since 1987. These numbers were adjusted for inflation.
That’s a huge amount. With the minimum wage being around $7.25 an hour, being able to pay for college, rent an apartment and be able to afford other expenses is stretching it for a college student.
Perhaps students are finding that trade jobs have become a nice alternative to getting a degree. They tend to have a shorter time frame of being required to go to school, with some trade jobs taking only two months to get their certificates, giving them the ability to almost immediately go out into the world and get decent-paying jobs.
On the other hand, when the economy is not good, students might believe that a degree is absolutely necessary in order to get a job. Going to college could be considered a safe alternative, giving students a chance to get away from their parents when they can’t find a job.
In just 2014, according to pbs.org, “The unemployment rate for Americans with bachelor’s degrees or higher is just 3.2 percent, compared to a national average of 6.1 percent.” This is a significant difference. But are statistics really enough to convince students?
In recent years, employers have been requiring many students to have at least 2 or more years of experience in order to work for them. That’s a huge problem considering the thousands of dollars students pay in obtaining “book smarts”, rather than experience.
Perhaps the job market is currently winning a tug of war with community colleges.
But there are other problems. According to insidehighered.com, in 2012 there was a policy change in the Pell Grant program. It lowered the required income threshold for the federal financial aid program and ended up decreasing the number of low-income students that would qualify.
In reality, state and federal legislators aren’t helping community colleges. These officials tend to withhold reimbursement, and with enrollment declining over the past few years, it doesn’t look good for community colleges overall.
One thing that could combat this situation would be high schoolers participating in their school’s dual-enrollment program with a community college and then continuing with that same college. Unfortunately, it seems a large number of students go to a 4-year college instead of continuing on with classes at the community college.
There are multiple problems with this entire situation. But not all hope is lost. For community colleges, a few changes are certain to be made, such as what will happen at JJC with the cafeteria changes.
Our most powerful weapon as a community college is the impression that the college is truly worth the investment. And we can only hope that JJC, despite recent student space issues, can continue to work with the students to provide a healthy and hopeful environment.
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