In the past when the economy weakened, enrollment in community colleges increased as the unemployed sought new skills (“Tumbling Community-College Enrollment Highlights Pandemic’s Broad Impact,” The Wall Street Journal, Nov. 23). But things are different this time.
Uncertainty about which skills will pay off when the economy rebounds likely is the No. 1 reason. But in California at least, the absence of internet service and lack of a reliable laptop also played a big role. Whether this decline will continue is unclear because no one knows for sure how long it will take after a vaccine is available until companies begin hiring again.
The trend is disturbing since community colleges are a bargain for those wanting to use the credits as a ramp to bachelor’s degrees and for those wanting to learn new marketable skills.
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2 Replies to “Community colleges not spared from tumbling enrollment”
Perhaps many/most of the covid unemployed assumed — rightly or wrongly — that they would be able to return to their old jobs (or to the same job with a different employer) as soon as businesses reopened. These folk would be reluctant to spend time/$ taking community college courses until they accepted the fact that their old jobs were gone forever. If the community colleges required course sign-up in, say, August for the Fall 2020-2021 semester, these folk would have been making their enroll/don’t-enroll decisions in July and August, 2020. At that point, the economy seemed to be turning around and they had a rational reason to expect to go back to their old jobs.
Now, the news re the multiple vaccines soon to be available in the US may cause these same folk to expect their old jobs to return sometime this spring and that, in turn, would deter them from signing up for the Spring 2021 semester at community colleges. (Not saying they are correct, of course — most are probably wrong. But, signing up for community college courses costs $ and reflects recognition that the old job is not coming back, both tough steps psychologically for the unemployed.)
Labor Lawyer: You’re probably right that furloughed workers expected their old jobs to come back. But I think they’d be far better off taking a class to develop new skills than assuming their old jobs would be back. The paternalism that characterized corporations in the past is long gone. Workers need to constantly upgrade their knowledge to remain employable.