With over 600,000 fewer students enrolled in spring of 2021, higher education is continuing to see decreases in enrollment from the impact of COVID-19. Although the certifications and technical degrees that community colleges offer are in high demand, these facilities are feeling the hit the most with 9.5% or 476,000 fewer students than last year – that's over 65% of all undergraduate enrollment decreases – as reported by the National Student Clearinghouse® Research Center™.
Undoubtedly, the rising cost for college tuition is high on the list for reasons why students aren't planning on going on to postsecondary academia – yet, community colleges, the least expensive option, are seeing the largest decreases in enrollment. With family incomes impacted so significantly through the pandemic, the idea of investing money into something that doesn't wield immediate results can seem insurmountable to families just trying to survive.
While keeping the cost of postsecondary education in mind, here are a few ideas to positively impact enrollment and bring even more value to students considering their academic path.
1. Build partnerships with industry representatives.
According to the Coalition for Career Development Center, 61% of college graduates are looking for courses to help them build career skills. One of the best ways to help students build career-readiness skills is to offer the classes needed for a successful career. To find out which careers are in demand, and will be in demand, building a connection with an industry partner is critical.
Sundt Construction and Central Arizona College (CAC) are one such partnership. Sundt originally approached CAC to explore an apprenticeship partnership in heavy equipment operations. During these discussions, it was obvious there was a larger gap in available skilled workers.
Although CAC already had construction courses and curricula, they did not offer the subjects needed to fill the rising demand in their area. To meet the growing demands of commercial construction, CAC administrators collaborated with Sundt leadership to develop five craft trade pathways needed: structural welding, heavy equipment operations, industrial construction, pipefitting and concrete construction technology.
Three months later, updated, approved and industry-vetted curricula were being offered; an unprecedented turnaround in collegiate curriculum process setting. CAC and Sundt worked to co-design the course content, sequencing of courses and the credential maps. The modular format of NCCER curricula helped in designing the courses efficiently to reach the quick deadline.
Co-delivering a partnership program not only provides students with a meaningful connection to industry standards and needs but also allows college faculty to be constantly engaged with industry professionals and exposed to new and emerging trends.
2. Change the script on the benefit of a college career.
There's no doubt that college has been seen as the route to success. It absolutely can be, but with 1.7 billion dollars in student loans, it's time to help students ensure their student loans and debt is worth it after earning that degree.
According to the research document "Restoring the Dignity of Work," only one job out of 10 requires a master's degree or higher. Two out of 10 need a bachelor's degree. The remaining seven? These only need an associate degree, certification or credential.
With over half of construction firms having a difficult time filling both salaried and hourly craft positions – many of them need the certification and technical degrees that can be earned at the community college level – the decrease in enrollment at these facilities is concerning.
By pairing degrees and certifications with the most in-demand jobs, students can see a clear path to success that could leave them with less debt and more earning potential. Educators and students can use Build Your Future's demand map to check which jobs are estimated to be in high-demand in their area.
3. Give credit for industry-recognized credentials.
One of the few sections to see gains in enrollment over the last year was in adult students (25 or older) – up to 3% at public four-year and private, nonprofit four-year colleges. With these students already being in the workplace, recognizing their on-the-job or technical training could further their desire to add a degree to their skill set.
One university already doing this is Capitol Technology University (Capital Tech). Having signed an agreement with NCCER, Capitol Tech is providing support for the construction industry craft professionals building our nation.
Craft trainees and students can earn college credit for successful completions of standardized craft training through an NCCER Accredited Training Sponsor. Any NCCER credential may be transferred into any of Capitol Tech's bachelor programs as elective credit. This program introduces analytics and decision-making to successful skilled professionals who either want to complete a bachelors' degree or gain skills leading to open their own business.
With the upheaval the pandemic has caused across the nation, it's no wonder young people and students are taking this time to consider their options in a new light. Already 25% of workers with student loan debt work outside of their chosen field due to debt obligations and over one third of student loan holders have held multiple jobs or worked additional hours due to student loans.
The benefits of a college degree are tangible, but it's time to change the discourse in how a degree leads to success. Pairing pathways to jobs in demand with high earning potential will help appeal to the young people looking for secure placement after college.