Colleges are wrestling with a host of issues caused by the coronavirus pandemic, and here's another one: Freshman enrollment has dropped more than 16% over last year. The National Student Clearinghouse Research Center reported the numbers Thursday, the New York Times reports. Enrollment for all undergraduate classes is down 4%. Graduate enrollment has been a bright spot, but its increase lessened a bit, to 2.7%. US universities and colleges have struggled to contain the virus by, in some cases, moving classes online and imposing restrictions, even suspending students who violate health protocols. As of last week, per the Times, more than 178,000 cases of the virus have been reported on more than 1,400 campuses since the pandemic began.
Enrollment plunged nearly 23% at community colleges. Those schools usually get a bump in bad economic times, per the Wall Street Journal, with unemployed adults looking to improve resumes and others trying to save money over four-year schools. It may be that early talk of a quick recovery steered people from those paths, said Doug Shapiro of the research center. Students may have taken a gap year or just put off college to work. "I fear that many of those students will never get back," he said. In addition, Black, Latino, and low-income students, members of groups affected disproportionately by the pandemic, often start their higher education at community colleges, said an executive at the American Council on Education. "The progress we've made in expanding education to lower-income students could be undermined," he said. (Some colleges already gave up on spring break.)