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College Enrollment is Steadily Declining, but the Pandemic Isn’t Entirely to Blame

By Nicolas Rontanini

As the semester’s workload steadily increases, we begin to realize the stresses that come along with college. Tuition payments and finding a job after graduation can be overwhelming to think about. As of last March, reported an 18.9 percent decline in enrollment for first-year students when compared to the fall of 2019. While the economic downturn of the pandemic had some bearing in the situation, reduced college enrollment isn’t to be blamed completely on the pandemic. Colleges had noticed a decline in numbers since before the onset of the pandemic, with students asking, “Is college worth it?”

There are several reasons for the question. Many students worry about finding a job after graduation and learning employable skills. Since the pandemic, more jobs have opened and created a “job seeker’s market.” In fact, job openings are nearly the highest they’ve been, which might be luring away prospective students.

People might look at workers who didn't attend college and they appear to be doing well, working and earning increasing wages, according to Doug Shapiro, executive director of the National Student Clearinghouse Research Center (NSCH). According to the 2014 documentary “The Ivory Tower,” many students experience difficulty finding a job after graduation, even with an advanced degree such as a masters, incurring hundreds of thousands of dollars of debt. It’s only gotten worse since then. Over the past decade, the student debt level has risen to 144 percent, according to “Business Insider.” This means that around 45 million people are being forced to contend with a level of debt in the form of $1.7 trillion. While scholarships are available to help cover the cost, like the Pell grant, according to “The Ivory Tower,” the grant was originally enough to cover the full tuition cost, whereas today, it only covers a fraction of it. This led to the rise of the student loan industry, which was never supposed to get so large.

Knowing this, it becomes important to understand prospective students’ mindset. Traditionally, college is seen as an investment in one’s future, gathering skills so that one day you could transfer those skills into a career.

Prospective students are questioning the value of earning a college degree. In fact, according to a January 2022 article in the “Washington Post,” only 29 percent of high school seniors have applied for financial aid, the same as the previous year. A comparison to 2020 shows completion of FAFSA forms among these students is down more than 10 percent. This holds a bleak note for colleges, as fewer students are enrolling.

Adelphi University has felt the impact as well.

“For my part, I am very aware that the demographic trends in the Northeast of the United States mean that there will be fewer students graduating from high schools in the coming years, which will likely result in overall declines in traditional undergraduate enrollment within our region,” said Provost Christopher Storm. “That does not necessarily mean Adelphi will see declining enrollment, just that we need to be very aware of offering the highest quality programs that will attract and serve our students.”

The provost said that Adelphi's overall enrollment this year is lower than it has been in previous years, adding that this is in part due to impacts from the pandemic and a smaller class that the university matriculated in fall 2020. “This year's first year class was one of our largest, which is a positive sign and reflects the value of an Adelphi education,” he said.

Kristen Capezza, the vice president of enrollment management and university communications at Adelphi, added, “As we begin to recover from the impacts of Covid, we were quite proud of the fall 2021 record-setting first-year class, a positive sign and indication that students and families recognize the value and return on investment in an Adelphi education. In the coming years, we anticipate significant growth in the graduate, adult and online markets as well -- all which will help combat the declining counts of traditional undergraduate prospective students.”

College can be difficult to navigate and tough to figure out. But the nature of college is that it’s supposed to be tough. It teaches you career-based skills and gives you opportunities to apply them. You get out of college what you put in. I was able to learn how to improve my writing skills and was given the chance to apply that knowledge. Moreover, I was able to meet other people and become a more efficient communicator. I was able to grow and learn because of my decision to come to Adelphi. And I think people are sharing a similar view. College enrollment is something to be taken seriously, especially when applying. It may be difficult, but with work, it can be worth it.

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