As traditional four-year colleges become more expensive, enrollment in community colleges is on the rise for the first time in more than 10 years.
- More students are choosing to pursue two-year degrees such as transportation and materials moving, computer information sciences, mechanic and repair technologies, and personal and culinary services, according to the National Student Clearinghouse Research Center.
- Interest in four-year degrees has declined. Enrollment was at 62% in 2022 compared to 66.2% in 2019, according to a U.S. Department of Labor report.
- The Wall Street Journal reports that overall college enrollment has declined by around 15% in the last decade.
- At the same time, interest in job-training alternatives like apprenticeship programs has increased.
Why it’s news
As the cost of a four-year degree has increased and the value of that degree has decreased, more high-school graduates are choosing alternative options to the traditional college experience. As of December 2022, student loans in the U.S. total around $1.76 trillion in federal and private student loan debt.
The average graduate with a bachelor’s degree has around $28,400 in debt. Students with higher-education or medical degrees may owe more than $100,000 in student loan debt upon graduation.
As students weigh whether or not this much debt is worth it for their career path, more are choosing job-related programs to get the most value for their money. Many of these students are looking for degrees with a clear and direct connection to a specific role in the workforce.
While community-college enrollment has risen this year, it is only a 0.5% increase compared to significant drops over the last several years. In 2022, enrollment fell 8.2% after declining 10.1% in 2021, Axios reports.
After the 2008 economic recession, interest in two-year colleges also increased. However, by 2010, enrollment had declined again and significantly dropped during the pandemic.
Overall, enrollment in post-high school education remains behind pandemic levels. Interest in bachelor’s degree programs is declining, as enrollment dropped 1.4% this spring. Associate degree enrollment fell 0.4% by comparison, Axios reports.
Students are increasingly interested in undergraduate computer science programs. At four-year institutions, enrollment rose 11.6%. Two-year colleges also saw enrollment in these programs increase beyond pre-pandemic levels.
While community colleges present a more affordable post-secondary education, the increase may be driven by a growing interest in dual enrollment programs. During the spring term, the number of high school students participating in these programs rose 8%.