- The Washington Times - Thursday, December 10, 2020

A new national survey finds that college enrollment among this spring’s high school graduates has declined 22% since 2019, as students show lagging interest in higher education during the coronavirus pandemic.

The National Student Clearinghouse Research Center information from more than 2,000 high schools for the report it released Thursday showing a 21.7% decline in enrollment from high school seniors, with even more drastically lower levels of enrollment from poor, urban and minority students.

Nearly one-third of low-income, minority, and urban high school graduates who would have gone to college in a previous year stayed home this year, said Doug Shapiro, executive director of the research center.

“They’re struggling with unemployed family breadwinners, with homelessness, child care, lack of broadband and internet devices, and higher rates of COVID cases and deaths in those families and communities,” Mr. Shapiro said during a webinar.

The research center stressed that Thursday’s results remain preliminary but could be replicated by the class of 2021 without some massive shift in priorities.



Slight declines in college attendance is nothing new. Even 2019’s graduating high school class saw a 2% decrease in college-bound students compared to 2018.

Four-year institutions have been accused of liberal bias and unfair selection processes, underscored by the admissions scandal in which wealthy parents paid a third party to fabricate application materials to get their children into elite colleges.

The cost of college, too, has risen sharply. Between 2008 and 2018, the College Board estimated a 25% increase in the cost of college, while all but only 9 states slashed higher education budgets.

Kim Cook, executive director of the National College Attainment Network, said some wealthier students may have taken a gap year, but that’s not the case for most, such as those in Riverside County, California, where 65% of schools are in low-income areas.

“That gap year means a full-time job that mom and dad get used to the income, and the likelihood of you going back is slim-to-none,” said Catalina Cifuentes, executive director of College and Career Readiness at Riverside County Office of Education. “They’re getting further stuck in that cycle of poverty.”

The numbers in 2020 represent a college-bound class in the throes of a public health emergency, strained family finances due to joblessness, and lagging academic attention, Thursday’s report said.

And the troubles may have started early, education experts say. While high school graduation rates in 2020 remained on par with those of past years, many schools spent the final two months in remote learning situations with pass-fail or “no fault” grades, meaning students took on part-time work.

“If they’re not going to school or working part-time, they’re working full-time,” Ms. Cifuentes said.

College hasn’t been the same in 2020, either. Many students now are home from Thanksgiving until the spring semester, many college football games were played without fans in attendance, and overall enrollment at colleges in the fall of 2020 is down 4.4%, with a 1.9% drop at four-year schools, according to the research center.

Unlike the economic downturn a decade ago, when community college attendance skyrocketed, many education officials say they have yet to see a similar boom at less-expensive, two-year or for-profit schools.

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