Preventing a “lost generation” of community college learners

Community colleges have long served as an accessible and affordable post-secondary pathway to better jobs for high school graduates and adults looking to upskill. For example, the median weekly earnings for someone with an associate’s degree are 17 percent higher than for those with only a high school diploma or a GED. Community colleges are particularly important for traditionally underserved students: compared to students at four-year colleges, community college students are more likely to be the first in their families to attend college, to be from a low-income family, and to be members of racial or ethnic minority groups. This is one reason why the steep declines in community college enrollment this fall are especially troubling.

Who’s up, who’s down and why

Community college enrollments are suffering. Badly. Nationally, they are down 9.5 percent, according to the latest report from the National Student Clearinghouse Research Center. Community college freshman enrollment is down by 19 percent. Enrollment of underrepresented minorities has taken an especially hard hit — it’s down by nearly 30 percent. Some colleges are doing worse than others — and some are doing well. But it’s hard to pinpoint exactly why. While experts agree that there are not yet any clear trends emerging from the rubble of fall enrollment caused by the COVID-19 pandemic, they have some strong hypotheses.

Department of Education’s College Scorecard shows where student loans pay off … and where they don’t

Where does all that student debt come from? Americans owe more than $1.5 trillion in student loans. Many struggle under the burden of those loans. But not all student loan borrowers struggle. Indeed, many thrive because of the education financed with their loans. Individuals who owe student debt are an incredibly diverse group, spanning highly educated professionals to first-year dropouts. Some borrowers earn six-figure salaries their first year out of school, and some earn less than a high-school graduate.