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A Crisis for Colleges is an Opportunity for Students

In 2022, 1.9 million fewer Americans enrolled in college than did in 2019. That’s four million fewer than enrolled ten years ago. It’s not just the pandemic: fewer Americans are enrolling in college, period. 

The Los Angeles Times writes that this is because students are increasingly jaded about higher education. “Thousands of young people who came of age during the pandemic but didn’t go to college,” it writes, “have turned to hourly jobs or careers that don’t require a degree, while others have been deterred by the prospect of student debt.”

The Times calls this “a crisis”: “Nationwide, undergraduate college enrollment dropped 8% from 2019 to 2022, with declines even after returning to in-person classes.”

But who is it a crisis for?

Traditional College Is Just One Of Many Options

It’s definitely a crisis for many traditional colleges, especially small ones that are dependent on consistent enrollment for year-to-year survival. A recent article in the Chronicle of Higher Education pointed out that flagship public colleges are recovering while smaller, more regionally focused, institutions are seeing the kind of enrollment declines that are an existential threat. 

But it’s not a crisis for all colleges. Not only are flagship public colleges seeing higher enrollments, but online college enrollments are now twice as high as they were before the pandemic. In 2017, only 15.7% of students were enrolled exclusively in online programs: now it’s 30.4%.

So the issue isn’t just that many potential students aren’t enrolling in college – it’s that some students aren’t enrolling in college, while others are shifting to enroll in different kinds of colleges.

Students Have More Choices Than Ever

If potential students are increasingly thoughtful about what they’re willing to sacrifice to earn a traditional degree, that’s because they now have better alternatives than ever. 

There are now fully online college college programs that rate high in student satisfaction. More than that, getting the right kind of certification or micro-credentials alone can create a significant career boost.

There are now over one million different job training credentials offered in the U.S., including apprenticeships, certificates, and licenses, according to Jobs For the Future’s Chief Strategy Officer, who also noted that “Two in five working-age adults have completed a non-degree credential and more than 80% of executives, supervisors, and HR professionals now say that alternative credentials bring value to the workplace,” 

That’s why companies are increasingly hiring for skills, not degrees. Candidates who can demonstrate that they have the skills a business needs can increasingly get a job whether or not they have a college diploma. 

So the decline in college enrollment isn’t actually a crisis for potential college students. They have many options and opportunities to get a great career. 

We Can Reimagine College To Make it Fast, Focused, and Free

But the right credentials do still matter, and having necessary skills still matters. That means that connecting potential students with the right career paths and industry opportunities is as important as it’s ever been. 

That’s why Calbright does so much to both reimagine what college can be – offering online certificates in skills that employers value, and in making college accessible. All our classes are free to Californians, flexibly paced, and can be completed in less than a year. We also connect students with career readiness opportunities, making it simple to change careers and work in technology

By making higher education more accessible to everyone, we can make the economy work better for everyone. It’s a crisis and an opportunity.

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