By KEVIN HARTUNG
I offer congratulations because you are part of a declining species, those now pursuing higher education.
We are embarking on another semester at Pima Community College when the cry has been “back to normal.” But Pima, like most colleges and universities nationwide, has seen a decline in enrollment. The sharpest decline is evident since the pandemic, but the benefit is that the pandemic has focused a spotlight on what has been a steady decrease in enrollment over the last decade.
“Overall, enrollment in undergraduate and graduate programs has been trending downward since around 2012, but the pandemic turbocharged the declines at the undergrad level,” said Elissa Nadworny in a National Public Radio broadcast on Oct. 26.
Enrollment prior to the pandemic (Spring 2018) saw an overall postsecondary enrollment decrease of 1.3 percent from the previous spring (2017). And the Spring 2019 enrollment again saw an overall postsecondary enrollment decrease of 1.7 percent from the 2018, a total decrease of 3 percent in two years (National Student Clearinghouse). Going back a decade, enrollment has been declining steadily. This is not because of the pandemic. So, what is causing this decline?
“All told, at the peak in spring of 2011, 19,610,826 students were enrolled in U.S. higher education. By spring of 2020, that number had eroded to 17,458,306. I predict it will dip under 17 million this spring – making it a net loss of more than 2.5 million students over the last decade,” said Branden Busteed in a Sept. 25, 2020, article for Forbes Magazine.
Busteed continued: “The percentage of aspiring adult learners who believe education will be worth the cost dropped from 77% to 59% since 2019; those believing education will help them get a good job dropped from 89% to 64%. … Given all this, it’s quite possible that the enrollment decline will continue for at least another full decade. … Anyone paying close attention to rising college costs, declining confidence in higher education and the growing number of high-value college alternatives could have predicted a continuous enrollment decline.”
PCC trends fall the same as nationwide trends. According to the Fall 2021 Student Characteristics Report: “Pima Community College unduplicated headcount in Fall 2020 was 17,603, down 16.36% from 21,047 in Fall 2019. Total annualized FTSE in Fall 2020 was 5,038 down 17.20% from 6,084 in Fall 2019. For the District, students enrolled were: “
Yet, these figures fail to point out that there is research-proven value in pursuing an increase in social capital through the pathway of higher education.
Social capital is “the networks of relationships among people who live and work in a particular society, enabling that society to function effectively,” said Bonnie Marcus in an Oct. 20, 2014, article for Forbes Magazine. “It refers to the links and bonds formed through friendships and acquaintances. … Or it can occur through daily social interactions. You started in high school when after graduation you stayed in touch with close friends. Networking proactively, you create and build a strategic, strong and diverse network of former classmates, teachers, professors, co-workers, and acquaintances.
“Identifying the right people, those people who have power and influence and are willing to recommend you is the first step. Building relationships of trust is next. The third important step is to leverage the relationships by paying it forward, being willing to help others and asking for assistance when you need it.”
Yes, you should be congratulated for realizing that just because you are engaging in another year of education, your intelligence percentage will incrementally increase. You realize that by getting a certain skill set that higher education provides, your future employability is sustainable. You realize that employers currently require at the least certification of your training, some want a two-year degree and others a four-year degree. And you may also realize that by making a positive investment in yourself, you are offering the world an increase in its human capital.
So, here is my high-five to all of you who are advancing yourselves by getting a higher education despite the downward trends.