Colleges struggle to retain students as enrollment drops

(NewsNation) — Those in higher education were hoping enrollment numbers lowered by the pandemic would have rebounded by now. But new data shows that may not be the case.

The National Student Clearinghouse has spring’s 2022 enrollment is down and the problems go beyond virtual learning and student rethink the costs and benefits of a college degree.

Undergraduate enrollment is down 9.4% — about 1.4 million students — from spring 2021 to spring of 2022. Graduate programs decreased by 4.1%.

The decline is even more dramatic in small, regional community colleges.

“I would argue that people are realizing (a degree from a not selective university) is not worth the paper it’s printed on,” said Brian Taylor, a managing partner at Ivy Coach. “It doesn’t lead to a better job — you can get a better job by going to trade school or by forgoing college altogether.”

But there is some good news.

First-year enrollment is up. Clearinghouse data shows first-time enrollment increased by 4.2%.

What colleges are really facing is a retention crisis.

“The college experience can’t exist in a vacuum anymore,” said Taylor. “We really need to connect students with their next best step after college.” 

Students seem to be making a value judgment. When there is a labor shortage and entry-level pay is increasing in jobs, students would rather work than return to the classroom.

Still, the evidence shows earning a college degree is the best path toward better career earnings. College graduates earn significantly more through their lifetime than those without degrees.


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