It’s bad news for higher education: college enrollment is still dropping. The rate of decline is slowing down, but that’s still three years in a row of fewer students choosing to go to college.
But that’s higher education as a whole. Some colleges, however, do have increasing enrollment. Across the country, community colleges have seen a .9% increase in first-time enrollment. It’s not a lot, but it’s an increase and sign of stabilization..
Similarly, undergraduate attendance at online colleges was up 3.2 percent from the previous year.
It’s the four year colleges, especially the “highly selective” ones, that are being most badly hit. According to the Chronicle of Higher Education, freshman enrollment at these colleges is down 5.6%.
None of this is really surprising, as surveys have made it clear for some time that potential students are increasingly prioritizing colleges that offer fast, attainable, credentials. These students are also cost conscious: they’re less willing to pay anything for a degree.
We’ve made the case before: when college is made accessible, students enroll. Accessibility means affordable, absolutely, but it also means that it fits with students’ lives and doesn’t ask them to constantly jump through hoops. It means straightforward and easy-to-navigate systems, with no “hidden curriculum.”
Calbright is in the center of these trends: an online community college offering free certificates that prepare learners for in-demand fields like cybersecurity, IT support, and Salesforce administration. They can be attained quickly, on a student’s schedule. Students respond to this because it’s what they need. As Calbright’s president Ajita Talwalker Menon has said, “Students are telling us what they need. They are voting with their feet in terms of preferences, not out of vanity but out of necessity.”