Data from the National Student Clearinghouse Research Center revealed since 2019, American colleges and universities have lost over 1 million students - around 6.6 percent. This is the highest decline schools have experienced since 2012.
With entry-level salary positions starting at rates comparable to hourly jobs, many young people opt to skip higher education and go straight into the workforce. A Pew Research study from 2019 revealed many American students don’t think a college education is worth the investment, and only half believed it would positively effect their career path and income trajectory.
How can US Universities and Community Colleges Boost Their Enrollment
Solution #1 Offer better financial aid programs
The student debt crisis in the United States is staggering. With millions of graduates struggling to buy a home, get a loan or function as adults because of the student debt crisis. While students are still taking on an increasing amount of debt even in recent years, colleges and universities can offer additional aid and scholarship programs to avoid taking out a loan to pay for college.
Solution #2 Offer nanodegree programs
Nanodegree programs give students a certificate or credential to show they’ve completed their education in a specific field, to address rapidly changing industries such as technology. Coding boot camps, for example, are a widely popular nano degree program as they offer up-to-date, relevant information and allow students to finish their education in months rather than over several years.
Solution #3 Enhance alumni networks to improve networking opportunities
Alumni networks and school partnerships are beneficial for students to secure a position in their desired industry after graduation. Spend time creating a robust alumni network or partnering with local businesses to funnel students into the workforce quickly and easily. Many schools partner with local companies in multiple industries to offer internships or job programs, which can fast track students into better-paying jobs later.
But why have students not been enrolling in higher education in recent years?
High student fees
The main problem is thought to be tuition costs, which remain very steep in the US compared to university programs around the world. Since 2000, the average cost of tuition in the United States has more than doubled, and with the increased cost of living in urban areas where many schools are located, attending school is more expensive than ever.
Education is time-consuming
Due to high costs, many students need to work while studying. Even in community college programs - which are often more affordable than four-year universities - students still have to give up a paycheck to attend classes or study.
Working wages are rising to counteract rising inflation in the United States, and with many hourly positions offering competitive wages, potential students may opt to work instead school. Plus, many entry-level positions are asking for candidates with field experience or are dropping their degree requirements to find candidates with experience.
Outdated education in fast-changing industries
Fast-changing industries are progressing quicker than schools can keep up with. For workers in the digital marketing field, for example, students often enter the workforce with the education that was needed several years ago. Rapid changes to communication tools, technologies and best practices mean those with field experience will often trump students entering the workforce for the first time.
While many external factors such as the COVID-19 pandemic and rising inflation across the United States encourage more students to skip college altogether, higher education programs can make subtle changes to their curriculum and financial aid programs to help alleviate student concerns.