Adult learners seem poised to return to college

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Despite enrollment declines, more than 20 million adults intend to enroll in community or technical colleges in the next two years, according to Strada Education Network.

An estimated 20.5 million working-age adults ages 25 to 64 say they intend to enroll in community or technical college in the next two years, according to national data from Strada’s Education Consumer Survey.

States are seeing a similar scenario. Data from CollegeAPP show that millions of adults in states across the country are still expressing a strong intent to enroll in the next two years.

Fall 2020 and spring 2021 enrollments at community colleges have dropped on average about 10%, with community colleges eagerly awaiting for those figures to rebound. Some advocates anticipate an improvement in the economy could prompt incumbent and dislocated workers to enroll at community colleges to upgrade their skills. But there is concern that for certain populations of students — low-income, students of color and women — it may take longer, as the pandemic has had a greater effect on them.

To encourage and help adult learners return to college, higher education institutions must assist them in overcoming some well-known barriers, such as housing and food insecurities, transportation and broadband access. Strada noted that guidance and coaching are also critical to help sidelined adult learners, who may experience self-doubt and lack access to clear information about college.

Community colleges benefit local economies as well as individual students, which is why it is critical to invest in two-year colleges, the report said.

“Rather than reading enrollment declines as a cue to reduce community college funding and resources, policymakers should instead seize this opportunity to direct resources toward building up enrollment and completion for a student population already waiting in the wings,” it said. “The time is now to infuse funding into our community colleges so that we can bring students back and enact practices that will deliver results. Creating more inclusive pathways into and through community colleges can fuel an equitable recovery, powering economic health and prosperity long into the future.”

About the Author

Matthew Dembicki
is editor of Community College Daily and serves as publications director for the American Association of Community Colleges.