- Community college enrollment rose this spring for the first time in a decade.
- Financial pressure is one reason students are opting for local schools over four-year universities.
- Major companies are partnering with community colleges to provide students additional opportunities.
Gen Z is known for questioning the norms that have been set for them and their success. Some are turning high-school hobbies into full-time entrepreneurial ventures, while others are pursuing non-traditional fields of study in school.
Another route becoming more prevalent among the cohort is opting for community college instead of four-year undergraduate degrees.
Overall, postsecondary education has still not recovered from pandemic-era lows. Enrollment in bachelor’s degree programs was down 1.4% this spring, Axios reported.
But according to a report by the National Student Clearinghouse Research Center, community college enrollment rose 0.5% in spring 2023.
This spring is the first time in more than a decade that community college enrollment numbers have increased, even after two consecutive years of massive drops: -10.1% and -8.2% in 2021 and 2022, respectively.
Financial pressure is fueling the community college boom
Financial stress is one major reason students are opting for two years of community school instead of four-year degrees.
Across the US for the 2022-2023 school year, the average cost of a four-year in-state tuition at a public university was $10,950; four-year out-of-state tuition at a public university was $28,240; and four-year tuition at a private university was $39,400, according to the College Board, a non-profit college admissions support company.
Meanwhile, the annual tuition of a two-year in-district college was $3,860.
The drastic difference in cost is pushing many toward the two-year community college degrees.
Multiverse, a future-of-work tech startup based in London, recently surveyed 1,008 parents in the US who have children ages 12-19. 69% of respondents said they would support their children skipping college altogether and entering the workforce right after high school — many of whom cite the high cost of college as a primary reason. Similarly, only 47% of respondents said student loans are worth the debt their children would acquire.
Students are looking for a quick route to the workforce
Today’s strong job market is encouraging more students — who are looking to make money as opposed to spending it on school — to pursue work sooner. That also makes these quicker, two-year degrees more attractive.
“I think that students are increasingly looking towards programs and majors that they can see, and easily see, a direct link to the workforce,” Doug Shapiro, the research and executive director of National Student Clearinghouse, told Axios reporters.
According to NSC, two-year majors in computer and information sciences and support services saw a 9.7% increase in enrollment this spring, mechanic and repair technologies/technicians rose 8.2%, personal and culinary services increased by 9.7%, and transportation and materials moving jumped 11.8%.
What’s more, some major companies are partnering with community colleges to provide additional opportunities to prepare their future workers.
PMG, a global advertising company, offers a partnership with the local community college, Tarrant County College. The program is called the “Digital Career Accelerator,” and is a free, eight-week course designed to teach the practical and introductory skills to a digital-media career, Insider previously reported.
“Ultimately we would love to hire from those schools,” said Stacey Martin, the chief people and culture officer at PMG. “For all of our campus hiring, a big part of what we do is really focus on getting into programs and community groups and building relationships with professors and with the alumni so that not only do people have the opportunity who are still in school, but past students also have the opportunity to consider careers within digital media.”