Students choose two-year community college over four-year bachelor’s degree programs, data shows: Fast track to jobs beats restless campus politics
- Community colleges recover after years of declining enrollment
- Students opt for blue-collar skills that can earn them decent wages
- For some, politics interferes too much on the campuses of prestigious schools
Community college enrollment picked up again this spring, with more students opting for two-year programs rather than pricey four-year degrees on campuses that have become hotbeds of social activism.
Data from the National Student Clearinghouse (NSC) shows how enrollment in two-year community college courses rose 0.5% this spring, while numbers fell in public and private, nonprofit four-year programs.
The change comes as college costs reach sky-high levels of an average of $39,400 per year for a four-year degree at a private school, prompting more students to take technical courses at community colleges that offer a pathway faster to gainful employment.
It also comes as Republican politicians crack down on “woke” diversity programs in some college systems and as campuses increasingly host clashes between liberal and conservative students and educators.
Enrollment in two-year community college courses rose 0.5% this spring as numbers fell in public and private, not-for-profit 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
Recent examples included conservative judge Stuart Kyle Duncan, whose planned speech at Stanford University Law School in March was marred by students and a dean protesting the jurist’s case.
Similarly, college swimming champion Riley Gaines revealed last month how she was hit on by a trans activist after giving a speech about women-only competitions at San Francisco State University.
Doug Shapiro, NSC’s executive and research director, said that despite the end of the pandemic, a “new set of factors appear to be keeping students from returning to campuses.”
Overall college enrollment has fallen for four straight years, falling 0.5% this spring.
Still, he added, there were “encouraging signs of recovery among young community college students,” particularly those choosing courses where they can “easily see a direct connection to the job market.”
Enrollment in public two-year colleges had been on a downward trend since 2010 and fell during the pandemic, according to the NSC.
But that changed this year, as more people signed up for courses in computers, mechanics, catering, transportation, and other practical and technological fields.
Costs are definitely part of the equation.
According to the College Board, another public, nonprofit community college costs an average of $3,860 per year, compared to $10,940 for public universities and $39,400 for private four-year college courses.
Computer science, mechanical, restaurant and transportation majors saw some of the biggest increases in community college enrollment this spring
Notably, four traditionally blue-collar majors saw a surge in enrollment this spring.
Young people appear to be fleeing traditional universities, with declining enrollment and increasing numbers of teenagers taking up jobs or attending two-year institutions to study more blue-collar pursuits
Going to community college suggests opportunities for young people in the job market.
The teen unemployment rate is the lowest in decades. In April 2023, the rate was 9.2%, the lowest since 1953.
The teen unemployment figure peaked at 30.2% at the start of the pandemic, but has mostly fallen since then.
When entering the workforce, young people working in leisure and hospitality jobs have seen their wages increase by 30% for seasonal workers from 2019 to 2023 and 20% for full-year employees.