Helping Community College Systems Address their Enrollment Challenges with SEM

Dr. Tom Green |
November 16, 2021
  • President and Executive Director Updates

Every spring and fall term since 2011, community college enrollments experienced slight declines. The gentle downward slope of this national trend came after a sharp upswing in enrollments following the Great Recession in 2008-2009. The Great Recession inspired federal stimulus funding and Pell Grant changes that made college an attractive alternative to a devastated job market. However, when the Pandemic hit in 2020, there was a dramatically different result for the nation’s community colleges. The past three terms -- fall 2020, spring 2021, and fall 2021 - have each seen significant declines across the community college sector. While enrollments at community colleges are more fluid and fall 2021 enrollment levels aren’t final, it appears that the sector experienced a decline of over 14% of its already declining enrollment levels since spring 2020 (NSC Research Center).

The declines have not been even. More men than women have opted out of higher education, with the decline in male enrollment approaching 20%. Declines by race are also uneven, where the declines have been more significant among those that identify as White, Black, or Native American and less severe among Asian and Latinx groups. While the declines in community colleges appear in every age group from 18-29, the broader undergraduate population in all college types is seeing a sharper decline in 25-29 year-olds.

AACRAO will be working across three state systems and with one individual community college over the next two years to help them create or sharpen Strategic Enrollment Management (SEM) plans targeted to these declines. They will address declines across adult learner populations, emphasizing equity within this age group but across all enrollments. Teams from AACRAO Consulting will work with community colleges in the SUNY, California, Minnesota State systems, and IvyTech Indianapolis, the largest, most diverse campus of Indiana’s community colleges.

The SEM plans will incorporate existing initiatives from Guided Pathways programs, and at some campuses, Lumina-sponsored REACH collaboratives focused on equitable credentials for adult learners. AACRAO Consulting’s work is made possible by a $1.45M grant from Lumina Foundation. Look for program sessions at the Annual Meeting, SEM Conference, and other gatherings, as well as webinars during the next two years, for updates on progress and initial outcomes and results.

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