Chicago — The toll the COVID-19 pandemic has on higher education doesn’t appear to be lightening up, especially for community colleges.
Enrollment at two-year colleges dropped 10% from fall 2019 to fall 2020 nationwide, according to the National Student Clearinghouse.
“The majority of them are working, many of them in industries that have been decimated by the pandemic. Trying to navigate that and take classes is a very daunting challenge at this time,” Martha Parham, a senior vice president for the American Association of Community Colleges, told NBC Chicago.
Additional challenges include supervising their children during virtual learning, but also mental health issues, such as anxiety and depression.
“The pandemic really pushed me over the edge,” said 20-year-old Stephanie Cruz Vazquez, who took a year off from Mesa Community College after increased anxiety over virus concerns.
In the past, Americans pursued a community college education during difficult economic times. However, the economic fallout of the pandemic left many stuck at home, and some unemployed. The enrollment drops seem to reflect it all, according to education experts.
Across the board, the pandemic has affected communities of color most, particularly Black and Indigenous ones. And in education, it is no different.
Enrollment decreased 13% each among Black and Indigenous groups; white and Latinx communities had a 10% drop; and Asians experienced a 5% decrease.
Advocates hope the shift is temporary and predict that students will return once things improve.
“We are worried about losing some of them permanently,” said President David Podell of MassBay Community College, near Boston. “They may follow up later, but each year that they defer their education, the less they’re going to make in a lifetime and the later the stability will come.”