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Educators Hope to Boost Flagging College Enrollment Post-Pandemic

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Thursday, April 8, 2021   

HOUSTON -- Many young people, especially those of color, are avoiding college enrollment, perhaps anticipating a post-pandemic job rebound that will make higher education unnecessary.

But professionals in the field say that approach is shortsighted.

Martha Parham, senior vice president of public relations for the American Association of Community Colleges, said traditionally, about half of the nearly twelve million students enrolled in community college are in career and technical programs that provide them with skills to immediately enter the job market.

But since last year, there's been about a 10% decline in community-college enrollment across the country.

"Historically when there's a dip in the economy or the jobs are being lost, we tend to see an uptick in community college enrollment," Parham recounted. "That has not played out at all during the pandemic."

Parham noted students with at least an associate degree typically earn $10,000 more per year than those with only a high school education.

Two Texas community colleges, Houston Community College and Dallas College, were recent recipients of scholarship and mentoring funds from PepsiCo and its philanthropic foundation, to support Black and Hispanic community college students.

Parham pointed out contributions from foundations can significantly benefit community colleges, especially when combined with local agencies that offer students health-care services, along with food and housing resources.

She added community college students can face challenges because they're typically around the age of 28, and some of those who are Black and Hispanic lack familiarity with the higher-education structure.

"Many of them are parents; 29% of them are first-generation college students," Parham remarked. "So you can imagine trying to navigate the application process and admission process entirely online."

The National Student Clearinghouse Research Center reported in 2020, first-time enrollment was down almost 20% among Latino students.

Disclosure: Lumina Foundation for Education contributes to our fund for reporting on Education. If you would like to help support news in the public interest, click here.


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