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Students are choosing two-year community college over four-year bachelor’s programs, data show: A quick route to jobs beats fractious campus politics
- Community colleges are recovering after years of falling enrollment numbers
- Students are opting for blue collar skills that can earn them decent wages
- For some, politics intrudes too much on the campuses of prestige schools
Enrollment at community colleges picked up this Spring, with more students opting for two-year programs over costly four-year degrees on campuses that have become hotbeds of social activism.
Data from the National Student Clearinghouse (NSC) shows how enrollment at two-year community college courses rose 0.5 percent this Spring, as numbers fell at public and private nonprofit four-year programs.
The shift comes as college costs reach eye-watering levels of on average $39,400 a year for a private school four-year-degree, nudging more students into community college technical courses that offer a faster route to salary-paying jobs.
It also comes as Republican politicians crack down on ‘woke’ diversity schemes in some college systems, and as campuses host ever more clashes between liberal and conservative students and educators.
Enrollment at two-year community college courses rose 0.5 percent this Spring, as numbers fell at public and private nonprofit four-year programs
A clash between a liberal dean and a conservative judge invited to speak at Stanford University Law School. Some students just want to stay out of politics
Among the recent examples involved conservative Judge Stuart Kyle Duncan, whose planned address to Stanford University Law School in March was marred by students and a dean protesting over the jurist’s record.
Likewise, college swimming champion Riley Gaines last month revealed how she was punched by a trans activist after giving an address about women-only competitions at San Francisco State University.
Doug Shapiro, the NSC’s research and executive director, said that despite the pandemic coming to an end, a ‘new set of factors appears to be preventing students from returning to campuses.’
Across the board, college enrollments have fallen for four straight years, declining by 0.5 percent this Spring.
Still, he added, there were ‘encouraging signs of recovery among younger students at community colleges,’ especially those choosing courses where they can ‘easily see, a direct link to the workforce.’
Enrollment in public two-year colleges had been trending downward since 2010 and tanked in the pandemic, the NSC says.
But that changed this year as more people signed up for courses in computing, mechanics, catering, transportation and other practical and technological fields.
Costs are doubtless part of the equation.
According to the College Board, another nonprofit, public community college courses cost on average $3,860 a year, compared to $10,940 for public universities and $39,400 for private, four-year college courses.
Computing, mechanics, catering, and transportation majors saw some of the biggest increases in community college enrollment this Spring
Notably, four traditionally blue-collar majors saw large increases in enrollment this spring
Young people appear to be shunning traditional universities, with enrollment declining and an increasing number of teenagers taking jobs or attending two-year institutions to study more blue collar pursuits
The shift to community college suggests young people eye opportunities in the job market.
The unemployment rate for teens is the lowest in decades. In April 2023, the rate was 9.2 percent, the lowest since 1953.
The teen unemployment figure peaked at 30.2 percent at the start of the pandemic but has mostly fallen since.
When they enter the workforce, young people who take leisure and hospitality jobs have seen wages that grew by 30 percent for seasonal workers from 2019 to 2023 and 20 percent for year-round employees.