Rebuilding community college momentum by meeting student needs

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In February 2020, Comptroller Glenn Hegar rebooted his Good for Texas Tour by highlighting the impact of Texas community colleges. The comptroller estimated that, with 700,000 students, community colleges contributed about $9.8 billion annually to the Texas economy and that the higher pay for individuals with some college or an associate degree raised annual wages by more than $27 billion.

The global pandemic has upended learning on college campuses across our state, challenging students’ pursuit of post-secondary degrees in profound ways. Preliminary data shows community college enrollment may have dropped by about 85,000 students (up to 12%) since fall 2019. Although this dip will adversely affect generations of incoming students, community colleges must continue to rise to the challenge of meeting the needs of our students and employers in communities across Texas.

Where are these students, and why didn’t they enroll?

Getting community college students back on track is as complex as the challenges these students face. Community college students are working adults, first-time college students and/or heads of household who power businesses of all sizes as they pursue high-demand occupations. They face significant needs that often prevent them from enrolling full-time. A May 2020 survey revealed that 21% of community college students were likely to take fewer classes due to the impacts of the pandemic, including lack of regular computer or internet access, and loss of jobs or income.

Student and family income is at the center of the pandemic’s impact on college enrollment. Research shows that substantial declines in community college enrollment nationwide were largest among graduates of high-poverty high schools. In Texas, where enrollment of first-time community college students dropped 22% and first-time public university enrollment dropped 1%, public 2-year college students have one-tenth the state grant aid of their 4-year counterparts. Community college students and their families depend on income to make ends meet; when that income is insufficient, students do not enroll.

Read the full story via Texas Tribune here.