Community College Students: A Data-Driven Look at Enrollment

By: Mari Breedlove Oct 04, 2021

Community College Students: A Data-Driven Look at Enrollment

Between the pandemic’s ongoing disruption of higher ed and the increased exposure that has resulted from a first lady who is a community college professor, colleges have been given a unique advantage as of late. Programs that have long fought against the stigma of not being four-year institutions are now becoming more attractive to college students than ever before.

Overall, college enrollment may be down, but community colleges are taking advantage of these new trends by exploring new ways to attract and retain students. Here we examine enrollment by the numbers to give you insight into who chooses community college and why.

The Average Community College Student

In the fall of 2019, The American Association of Community Colleges reported that the average community college student is 28 years old. More than half were less than 22 years old, and just 8% were older than 40.

Like students at four-year institutions, a community college student is slightly more likely to be female. While white students make up the majority of community college students, that number is decreasing. Meanwhile, the number of Hispanic or Latino students has been on the rise. As of 2016, 24% of community college students were Hispanic or Latino, and 50% were white.

Looking at demographics from a different perspective can reveal some important insights. Although just 24% of community college students are Hispanic or Latino, 52% of Hispanic students enroll at community colleges. Meanwhile, 57% of Native American students enroll at a community college.

No College Credits Needed

According to the American Association of Community Colleges, 47% of students enrolled in non-credit-bearing courses in fall 2018. This includes students pursuing vocational training, earning continuing education units (CEU), or completing focused skills workshops. Certifications in Lean Six Sigma, Scrum, and Project Management are attainable through non-credit-bearing courses.

These students may either seek CEU’s to maintain their professional certification or seeking a new certification to advance their career. It should come as no surprise, then, that most community college students already have jobs. In fact, 62% of full-time students and 72% of part-time students also hold a job.

Community College Attracts Parents

Students who are parents are more likely to choose a community college, which is especially true among students between the ages of 18 and 24. While 37% of all students aged 18 to 24 attended public 4-year colleges, 47% of young parents opted for community college.

When broken down by race and ethnicity, 54% of Hispanic or Latino students who are young and parenting enroll in community college. Among young Asian students who are parents, 51% attend community college. Young Black or African American parenting students are least likely to attend a public 2-year college, and only 38% take that route. Even so, only about 38% of community colleges offer on-campus child care, compared to 49% of public 4-year colleges.

Don’t Forget International Students

For the 2019-2020 school year, almost 80,000 international students were enrolled at “associate’s colleges,” representing 7.4% of all international students. According to a paper by the American Council on Education, these students choose community college due to lower costs, greater access to online courses, and shorter completion times. Travel restrictions may potentially shrink this number, at least until the pandemic has passed.

Pandemic Impact on Community Colleges

Some students chose community college to save money during the pandemic. Many of these students were previously enrolled at four-year colleges before the pandemic. Losing the campus experience made them less willing to pay the tuitions that four-year colleges charge. Now that colleges are returning to in-person learning, will these students return to their original plan?

The answer is still unclear. However, Simpson Scarborough reports that 10% of the class of 2020 who had previously planned to attend a four-year college or university before the pandemic have since made alternative plans. Most commonly, that plan includes community college.

Unfortunately for community colleges, those students aren’t enough to offset the overall decrease in enrollment facing all of higher ed. During the spring semester of 2021, community college enrollment dropped by 9.5%, making it the most significant drop across all institution types.

The long-term impact on community colleges remains to be seen. In the meantime, they can look for ways to attract students who aren’t as likely to attend their institutions. At the same time, targeting marketing efforts can help community colleges attract those students who are most likely to enroll.

For help developing a strategic marketing plan to grow your student enrollment, contact the higher ed marketing experts at EDDY.