by Neve Kelley

The pandemic has far-reaching implications, including the future (or demise) of higher education…

We’ve heard it all before: The pandemic has created a time of uncertainty that has affected every facet of our lives. But we’ll go completely back to normal eventually, right? Maybe, maybe not. Because of the pandemic, college enrollment has been down and some worry that the decline may be a trend outlasting COVID. Though college campuses have largely reopened, people are not choosing to pursue higher education at the rates they were before. Many students are questioning if college is truly valuable, and it doesn’t seem like this idea is just a short-term issue resulting from the restrictions we’ve been under over the last 

two years. 

Since the start of the COVID pandemic, colleges and universities have lost nearly 1 million students in pursuit of higher education. According to the National Student Clearinghouse Research Center, higher education enrollment fell 2.7% for the fall of 2021 following a 2.5% drop in enrollment for the fall of 2020. Undergraduate enrollment alone fell by 3.1% (about 465,000 students) over the last year. Even community colleges, which pride themselves on affordability (as easily accessible institutions) may have to resort to raising tuition due to the decline in enrollment (The Washington Post). Researchers and enrollment staff among many others in the collegiate system are nervous that this generation is continually losing motivation to get a higher education. Specifically, Catalina Cifuentes, who works to promote college access in Los Angeles, said in an interview with NPR, “It really does feel like we are losing a generation.” Cifuentes also notes that because the pandemic has put us in survival mode, “Things like college and college applications, they take a backseat.”

Doug Shapiro, the director of the National Student Clearinghouse Research Center, believes that students may be looking at friends a year ahead of them who chose not to go to college. Because many seem to be doing fine, the next class may choose not to go themselves (The Washington Post). Job openings are now at a record high, according to Clearinghouse data, and people may choose to enter the job force as soon as they can, rather than pursue higher education. Especially in wake of the pandemic, rising tuition costs have deterred people that must support their families away from pursuing higher education (The Hechinger Report). These students could be taking a gap year to wait until conditions return to normal—but the longer the pandemic lasts, the more time off people have and the less motivated they will be to return to school.

Will conditions return to normal? Will more students return to colleges? Right now, there are no answers. But people are hopeful that students have not yet given up. Perhaps the time off will ensure students are ready financially and mentally, to give their full attention to education. “I’m really hopeful that students will go back,” Cifuentes says. “It’s not too late” (NPR).

About Neve Kelley

Neve Kelley a senior in the International Baccalaureate Program at Richwoods High School. In addition to being in an academically rigorous program, she is also heavily involved in community and school theatre productions. She takes private voice lessons and has been involved with choir and madrigals at Richwoods. Kelley is the co-editor in chief of her school paper, sits on the executive board of student council, and is in various school clubs. She also spends much of her time working as a barista at Leaves ‘n Beans in Peoria Heights.