Despite earlier predictions that this might be their year, many are expecting enrollment declines — some of them devastating. Impact is greatest on minority and low-income students.
The fall 2020 semester was supposed to be a good one for community colleges. The vast majority of students live near a community college, and many surveys of students said COVID-19 might persuade them to study closer to home this fall. Students unhappy with the options at four-year colleges would find out how good community colleges are and enroll. A boost in summer enrollments at community colleges (or at least some of them) promised more of the same in the fall.
That was the theory.
With some community colleges already open (or online) for the fall, and others just a few weeks away, a very different picture has emerged. Many community colleges are boasting (yes, boasting) about enrollment losses of 5 percent as a good sign. Some community colleges have losses of up to 30 percent. Enrollments are down both at institutions that are opening up their campuses and those that are keeping most students off campus. Community colleges have large enrollments of minority and low-income students, and they appear to be particularly vulnerable.
Of course, the full picture isn’t clear yet. And there are a few exceptions — colleges that expect to make enrollment gains this year. But the overall picture is glum.