College students are still not returning to classes — virtually or in-person — in their pre-pandemic numbers.
National data shows college enrollment fell another 2.7% in the fall of 2021. It's a bit larger than the previous fall, when institutions saw a 2.5% drop, according to the National Student Clearinghouse Research Center.
COVID-19 has hit community colleges particularly hard. According to the research center, public two-year colleges went from being down in enrollment by 1.4% in 2019 to down 10.1% in 2020 and down 3.4% in 2021.
Local Oakton Community College in Des Plaines reported its total headcount in fall 2019 was 7,652, then 7,079 in fall 2020, and 6,278 in fall 2021, according to their admissions office.
“Students have stopped out because of the pandemic, and the pandemic has impacted their personal lives with child care, older family care and financial impacts,” said Michele Brown, director of admission and enrollment at Oakton.
It’s especially vital during the pandemic to provide a wraparound ecosystem to students, said Aneesh Sohoni, CEO of One Million Degrees, a nonprofit aimed at helping Chicago-area low-income students graduate from community college.
This looks like financial support, academic tutoring and providing a professional network of people in fields that students might be interested in.
“The key has been, for us when we’re working with our students, is to really listen and understand their needs and then to be flexible and responsive to what we’re hearing,” Sohoni said.