Although the pandemic is no longer closing down campuses due to it, college enrollment has not recovered. According to preliminary data from NSCRC (National Student Clearinghouse Research Center), fall 2022 enrollment fell even more than 2021.

The rebound was not what experts had hoped for.

Doug Shapiro, NSCRC’s executive director, stated that high school graduates who did not enroll in the first fall 2020 or 2021 of their senior year are unlikely to return. He spoke at a press conference. “And the fact many four-year institutions remain below their freshmen numbers last year, and even less back to their freshman numbers in 2019, is very concerning .”

The NSCRC reported that enrollments at schools that shared data with clearinghouses fell at a slower pace, but they saw a decrease of 1.1% to 10.3 millions students in fall 2022.

Shapiro stated that “for the first time since starting of the pandemic,” the declines in four-year schools are more severe than at community colleges.

For-profit four-year colleges experienced higher declines than other institutions. Fall 2022 NSCRC data shows that for-profit programs experienced higher declines than other institutions.

  • The drop in undergraduate enrollment was 2.5%.

  • Graduate enrollment fell by 5.4%

The preliminary fall 2022 college attendance results show that the drop in college attendance, for both for-profit and non-profit programs, has now reached 3.2%.

Why are college enrollments declining?

The National Center for Education Statistics conducted a study and found that many people chose not to enroll in college during the pandemic. This was due to changes in income, concerns about COVID-19 and uncertainty around class structure. Despite the fact that the pandemic was over, schools resumed in-person education and enrollment improved, it remained slow.

Shapiro stated that he believes there are still other factors at play. He mentioned college affordability and debt concerns as obstacles to enrollment. He noted that the declining college enrollment could also be due to a strong labor market for unskilled workers.

Higher college enrollment has been linked to higher employment for a long time. According to the Department of Labor, there have been an average of 407,000 new jobs per month for 2022. The report also shows that wages are trending up to catch up with inflation. The opportunity cost of leaving the work market for college may be too high for someone who is considering it.

The actual cost of college is very high. Data from the Education Data Initiative (a research organization that studies U.S. education statistics) shows that tuition increased on average by 4.63% per year from 2010 to 2020. Many students have had to borrow over $30,000 every year to pay for college.

Kristen Ahlenius is the director of education at Your Money Line. She sees a situation where it could be advantageous to forgo college.

Ahlenius mentions how crippling student debt can be.

Why college is still worth your consideration

College graduates are generally more financially secure than high school graduates, despite rising tuition costs and the student debt crisis.

Brian Walsh, certified financial planner and senior manager for financial planning at SoFi, stated that “the data continues to demonstrate that a higher education is associated with higher earnings as well as lower unemployment.”

According to the Federal Reserve Bank of New York, in 2021, the median salary of a worker with a bachelor’s degree was $22,000 higher than the average annual salary of a high-school graduate.

The Labor Department also found that education levels correlate with earnings gaps. A master’s, doctorate, or other professional degree can increase your earning potential by more than twice what you earn with a high school diploma.

Graduation holders are more likely to stay employed. According to the Labor Department, in 2021 the unemployment rate for bachelor’s degrees holders was 3.5%, while it was 6.2% for high school graduates. Higher degrees will lower your chance of being unemployed.

What to Do if You Aren’t Ready for College

Although you may know the long-term value of a degree, it can still be overwhelming to think about such a large financial investment. Explore your options if you are still not sure if college is right for you.

Walsh says that higher education can still be valuable if done in the right manner. The end result is the exact same, but the way to get there has changed.

Students can choose to live at home, enroll in community college, or continue their education online. These are just some of the ways Walsh views students attending college.