Community colleges must rise to the challenge of a possible enrollment surge, according to a new report from Eduventures Research.
The report points out that community colleges did well with their enrollments in the Great Recession of 2008. But the enrollment for this coming academic year will be a "cliff-hanger" as students hold off on making decisions due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Most likely, though, the report said community colleges will see a boost in enrollment in the fall. Adults will lean toward colleges that are affordable and have a local presence. Traditional-aged students from lower-income families will opt for two-year colleges, as they have been disproportionately affected by the pandemic. And students from four-year colleges may opt to attend a community college for a period of time if their original institutions are cavalier about reopening or provide online learning options that aren't compelling.
To attract and retain those students, however, the report warns that "community colleges must avoid complacency."
"Vanilla remote learning, curtailed applied classes, hazardous transfer pathways and hands-off job placement will tarnish the brand and push adult and low-income younger students into the arms of desperate bottom tier four-year schools, inferior for-profits and DIY online courses," the report states. "Community colleges must rise to the challenge, not simply trade on being cheap and accessible."
The report predicts that enrollment could increase by as much as 20 percent if community colleges are successful in their response to this moment. If they can adapt to the changing demographic needs of the U.S., community colleges could win in the long run, the report said.