US college enrollment rates have dropped by 3 million students over the past decade. Although the decline has been concentrated in community colleges, it will soon be coming to many institutions over the next four years.
Demographers predict a “registration cliff” beginning in 2025, when the traditional college-age population will begin to shrink for the foreseeable future.
If they don’t bring in more students, colleges will struggle financially, and some may close their doors. Some are already doing so. The result: Few Americans will have the skills needed to strengthen our democracy, advance our knowledge-based economy, and address the challenges of our time – from climate change to life-threatening disease to racial discrimination.
Related: Due to the low enrollment rate and poor birth rate, colleges are facing setbacks
To reverse the enrollment trend, colleges must do more than compete for the declining number of senior high school graduates. They need new strategies to attract populations that they have long underestimated and underestimated: high school students take college courses, community-college transfers, and working adults.
Here are ways in which colleges can develop the talents of these three groups.
High school students: The number of high school students taking advanced placement courses has increased by 57 percent in the last decade, with the number of high school students taking college courses increasing rapidly, mostly in community colleges. But very few of these dual-enrollment courses count for a college degree; This is a missed opportunity to make the college more affordable for working class students and families.
Colleges can increase enrollment by better serving these dual-enrolled students. A great example: 90,000-student arrangements in Alamo College District, San Antonio, Texas, K-12 works with partners to enroll thousands of diverse high school students not only in any college course, but also to line up with valuable credentials.
Alamo has developed a clear course sequence that mentors use to connect high school students to the degree path that leads directly to better jobs or to non-stop transfers to a bachelor’s degree program at one of seven nearby universities. As such, Alamo is translating a growing interest in college-level work that places the greatest importance on families – leading students to a brighter future with a higher-quality degree.
Community-College Transfers: Most community college students want a bachelor’s degree, but only one in six meet that goal within six years of entering community college. Those who are often out of line are black and Hispanic students, as well as students from low-income neighborhoods who are more likely to start higher education in a community college than others.
In order to increase enrollment, students from universities and community colleges should stop competing against each other and students should compete together to significantly increase their chances of actually earning a bachelor’s degree. An excellent example: a partnership between Northern Virginia Community College (NOVA) and George Mason University. By enrolling new students in both institutions simultaneously, this large community college and top research university reports that they are helping 3,000 students each year find their way to a low-cost, high-quality bachelor’s degree – the most specific path to a good one. Salary jobs in North Virginia.
Unlike most community college students, those enrolled in the program do not need to apply twice, or wonder if the credits will be handed over or selected through conflicting information from two financial aid offices.
Adults need high-quality short-term training: Post-secondary education can help millions of adults who do not pay family-sustainable wages move out of jobs. But to get an associate’s degree, they need to increase their salary much faster than the two years it takes, four years to graduate.
Unfortunately, research shows that many short-term certifications do not significantly increase pay and do not show the way out of low-paying jobs.
Colleges across the country can sustainably attract more students by ensuring that their short-term credentials actually lead to better paying jobs with benefits. They can learn from Valencia College, Orlando, Florida, whose president reports that each year they provide rapid skills training to about 1,000 adults in construction, advanced manufacturing, information technology, and other fields. In four-to-22-week programs, students earn industry-recognized credentials that lead to access to additional training to improve their job prospects as well as higher salaries.
Related: Many certification programs do not pay, but colleges want to offer them anyway
What can educators learn from these examples? From 2010 to 2019, enrollment in community colleges across the country decreased by 25 percent, but remained stable at NOVA and increased by 15 percent in Valencia and 20 percent in Alamo College District.
And while enrollment in public four-year colleges increased by only 20 percent in that decade, in the case of George Mason, they increased by almost 50 percent.
If they don’t bring in more students, colleges will struggle financially, and some may close their doors.
These stories show that new students will see committed campuses when they have what they want and need. Enrollment will increase sustainably if college leaders create new models that value the obsolete population.
Following these examples, other colleges and universities can revitalize themselves and create opportunities for the next generation to strengthen the country’s economy, democracy and stress-solving capacity.
Joshua Weiner, Founder and Executive Director of the Aspen Institute College Excellence Program, author of “What a wonderful community college.“
Produced by this piece about college enrollment Hatchinger report, A non-profit, independent news organization focusing on inequality and innovation in education. For registration Hatchinger’s newsletter.