Investing in community colleges fuels economic opportunity

National report shows how investing in community colleges pays dividends for students, employers and society

The drop in community college enrollment caused by the pandemic has been unlike anything previously seen. Initially, experts predicted community colleges to get a bigger-than-usual enrollment boost, as students transferred out of four-year programs to save money and stay close to home. Instead, Fall 2020 enrollments plummeted just over 10 percent — with no meaningful improvement for Spring 2021. 

This is especially troubling as community colleges educate a third of all postsecondary students, including more than half of Black and Latino students. These schools provide accessible and career-relevant education that trains highly skilled workers for growing, in-demand industries.

During the pandemic, the steepest enrollment declines have come from first-time students — especially older students and students of color. 

Enrollment declines are not due to lack of interest 

A March 2021 report from Strada Education Network, Powering Purpose: Invest Now In Community Colleges to Fuel Economic Opportunity, shows that despite nationwide historic enrollment declines due to the pandemic, 20.5 million adults across the country still say they intend to enroll in community college in the next two years. These schools provide accessible and career-relevant education that train highly skilled workers for growing industries.

For the many low-income adults who intend to enroll in post-secondary education, their ability to enroll, persist, and succeed depends on access to essential needs — such as housing, food and transportation. Among the 20.5 million adults who say they intend to enroll, 31 percent earn an annual income of less than $24,000.

The report goes on to explore how community colleges can address enrollment drops by implementing proven student success interventions — designed to support access, completion, and better career outcomes.

More than half of the adults in the U.S. who say they intend to enroll in the next two years are Black (20 percent) or Latino (33 percent).

InsideTrack Re-Enrollment Coaching sets up returning students for success 

InsideTrack’s work with Wake Tech Community College is highlighted in this report. Wake Tech, the largest community college in North Carolina, identified 1,288 students who had stopped out in the fall of 2020 and were not currently enrolled, but were close to completing their credential. InsideTrack Re-Enrollment Coaching helped 201 of these Wake Tech students navigate their return to the right program for them — a re-enrollment rate of 15.5%.

This re-enrollment program yielded a 383% return on investment for Wake Tech in just over a three-month period.


Want more insights on community colleges? Check out the Wake Tech Case Study

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