Thursday, January 7, 2021

Pandemic Enrollment Declines at Oregon Community Colleges

Enrollment at Oregon higher education institutions declined in fall 2020 amid the COVID-19 pandemic and it’s economic fallout. The enrollment drop affected community colleges much more significantly, declining 23% since fall 2019. Every Oregon community college had a lower headcount compared with last year, as of the fourth week of fall term. Most state universities also saw declines, with university enrollment down about 4% statewide. In addition to the continuing effects of COVID-19, September’s disastrous wildfires likely affected fall enrollment; some of the largest declines in fall enrollment occurred at institutions close to blazes that continued to threaten communities and fill the skies with smoke as the fall term got underway.

Community college headcount enrollment has been declining for some time, but the plunge this fall was a significant acceleration of that trend. The total student full-time equivalent (FTE) at Oregon community colleges dropped 19% between fall 2019 and fall 2020. This measure sums the total clock hours in which all students are enrolled, divided by 510 for a full-time equivalent. It, too, has been on a slow downward trajectory, with a sharper decline in fall 2020.

Oregon Public Broadcasting’s Meerah Powell reported new details from the Oregon Community College Association (OCCA), showing that the enrollment decline is largely centered in reduced enrollment in career and technical education programs (-25%) and adult basic skills programs (-48%) like GED preparation or English as a second language. “We’re also seeing that with communities of color and systemically marginalized communities in particular, (they’re) not able to access a community college right now,” OCCA Deputy Director John Wykoff said at a recent HECC meeting. While enrollment has dropped across racial and ethnic groups, the steepest declines appeared among Hispanic and Latino students, whose share of enrollment dropped by 1.0 percentage point, and white students, whose share of the student population dropped 1.6 percentage points compared with fall 2019 enrollment.

What Does Declining College Enrollment Mean for the Workforce?

Employers need workers with the skills developed at Oregon’s community colleges. In responses to the Oregon Employment Department’s Job Vacancy Survey, employers report more difficulty filling vacancies requiring postsecondary training, associate degrees and “other” training or certifications. In 2019, 77% of these vacancies were reported as difficult to fill, compared with 55% of jobs requiring a high school diploma and 57% of vacancies requiring a bachelor or advanced degree.

Some of the most common jobs reported by Oregon employers that would be trained at a local community college include registered nurses, heavy and tractor-trailer truck drivers, nursing assistants, dental assistants, electricians, and carpenters. This top list of jobs employers were recruiting for in 2019 heavily represents trades jobs, as community colleges provide the classroom training for the state's apprenticeship programs, and health care-related jobs. We need workers trained in these fields. An interruption in such training will be felt in increased difficulty filling jobs in a couple of years’ time, as these programs can take two to four years to result in a fully trained worker.

To learn more about community college enrollment and its effect on the workforce, read economist Jessica Nelson's full article here

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