D.C.-area community colleges report significant enrollment declines

Two-year programs across the Washington, D.C., region have experienced substantial enrollment loss since 2019, mirroring national trends, and sparking efforts to retain and re-engage students.

Given the typical demographics at two-year, open-access institutions, the enrollment gap “has profound ramifications for the education and career prospects of people from low-to-moderate-income families,” The Washington Post reports.

Enrollment down nearly 15 percent at nation’s two-year colleges

As of November 2021, enrollment at the nation’s 950 community colleges was down 14.8 percent compared with 2019 numbers, according to an update from the National Student Clearinghouse Research Center. The pandemic’s economic, social, and health implications—including factors such as competing caregiving responsibilities and gaps in Internet access—have all combined to create a prolonged disruption.

Related: Undergraduate enrollment at US colleges continues to fall >

“I’ve never seen anything quite like the last few years in community colleges,” Walter G. Bumphus, president and chief executive of the American Association of Community Colleges, told the Post. “The pandemic raised its ugly head in a number of ways for our colleges.”

D.C.-area schools mobilize to engage students

At the University of the District of Columbia, officials say their two-year enrollment is down 29 percent compared with 2019 numbers. Similar trends are playing out at a number of “major gateways to higher education in the Washington suburbs,” the Post writes.

After experiencing a 19 percent enrollment slide since 2019, Montgomery College in Maryland says it has slowed hiring to conserve resources, stepped up financial support for students, and bolstered dual-enrollment programs with local high schools. “We are certainly concerned,” said Charlene M. Dukes, the college’s interim president, adding that the enrollment decline was “much more than we expected.”

Prince George’s Community College, meanwhile, has reported a 10 percent drop-off in enrollment across the past two years. Leaders at the college say they are seeking out students who graduated from high school during the pandemic but chose not to pursue higher education, many of whom come from low-income households.

Officials at Harford Community College, near Baltimore, say they, too, are working to engage recent high school graduates, as well as other working adults, after seeing enrollment fall 19 percent since 2019. “Our message is come back—or come,” said Theresa B. Felder, the college’s president. “Community college is the right choice. Start with us, finish with us, if that’s your choice. We have what you need.”

Brad Phillips, executive director of the Maryland Association of Community Colleges, said the plummeting enrollment numbers reinforce “just how vulnerable” the state’s community-college population is. Phillips noted that two-year institutions are urging Maryland lawmakers to maintain or increase funding to help their campuses navigate this precarious environment.

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