Community college enrollment is plummeting, but political clout is growing (subscription)

By: | March 3, 2021

Community colleges, long the unsung foundation of higher education in America, have reached a perilous turning point. These two-year public colleges, offering associate’s degrees, workforce training and a low-price opportunity to get started on a bachelor’s degree, had roughly 10 percent fewer students at the beginning of the school year compared with 2019.

No other sector of higher ed lost as much enrollment — a devastating development for these schools that serve large numbers of disadvantaged students and are open to all who apply. History suggests that when the economy sinks, people flock to community college to upgrade skills and résumés. That didn’t happen last year.

But community colleges now have a powerful White House ally in first lady Jill Biden, who is an English professor at a major one in Northern Virginia. The Biden administration is likely to push for tuition breaks and other measures that benefit community college students. It’s the broadest political opening for these colleges in the last decade.

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