Salt Lake Community College is trying to find ways to combat a drop in U.S. undergraduate college enrollment, which has decreased nationwide by more than one million students since fall 2019, according to the National Student Clearinghouse Research Center.
Largely due to the COVID-19 pandemic, all higher education institutions have seen enrollment numbers fall, but community colleges have seen the biggest decrease. According to a November 2021 report from the NSCRC, 14.8% less students enrolled in a community college when compared to 2019, whereas four-year public institutions saw a 4% decrease.
SLCC faces a downtrend in enrollment that is higher than the national average. The latest numbers reveal an 18% drop in the same time frame, according to Debbie Summers, the college’s database reporting manager.
“Everybody has gone down,” Summers said, adding that the college compares itself to 38 peer institutions, all of which are experiencing low enrollment. “We’re hoping it’ll pick up, but we haven’t seen it. It’s hard to know what to project.”
According to a 2019 report from the SLCC Board of Trustees, 63% of institutional funding came from state taxes. Summers said the amount of money allocated to the college by the state depends largely on enrollment numbers, which makes enrolling students — and keeping them enrolled — essential to allowing the college to operate.
“If we don’t bring in students, we don’t get money,” she said.
SLCC’s student advisory team is at the forefront of the college’s effort to keep students enrolled, but they can only help if students choose to speak to them.
“I have not seen a change in student attitudes about being enrolled; the excitement levels are the same,” said Gordon Storrs, who has been an advisor at SLCC in the School of Arts, Communication, and Media for nearly 10 years.
Storrs said although the students’ perception of college could be a factor in dropping enrollment rates at SLCC, it has more to do with money than anything.
“The majority of people leaving are leaving because of financial reasons, or because life gets too complicated,” Storrs said. “This is especially the case during COVID, but in my experience, most students — if they come talk to an advisor — we can figure it out and make that student successful.”
Lack of funding is the most common reason that students give up on college, according to ThinkImpact, which reported that 38% of college dropouts nationwide are due to student financial difficulties.
Because of the pandemic, the federal government issued emergency funds for students through bills such as the CARES Act. Storrs advised students to talk to an advisor about funding programs that they may not already know about.
“If I could give a struggling student advice, it would be to meet with an advisor and get a pep-talk,” he said, explaining that advisors offer a number of services, from pathway planning to free counseling vouchers for students struggling with their mental health.
“It’s also very important for students to find out what they want to do,” Storrs said. “If students can get excited about something, that’s the biggest thing.”