Enrollment at the majority of Oregon’s public colleges and universities is still declining after more than a year of the pandemic. The declines reflected in new figures released recently by state higher education officials follow a year in decline in 2020, when the COVID-19 pandemic forced college administrators to close campuses and shut down cancel classes.
Although some schools have seen increases, most of Oregon’s higher education institutions still admit fewer students, especially the state’s community colleges, which have suffered most of the decline in enrollment. ‘last year.
The number of students at state community colleges declined slightly this fall, a 0.4% drop from a year ago, according to the Oregon Higher Education Coordinating Commission, or HECC.
But, it is still well below the workforce before the pandemic. Compared to 2019, community college enrollments are down nearly 24%, according to the HECC.
Public universities also saw a slight decline in enrollment this year compared to last year – 0.5%. This is a decrease of 4.3% compared to 2019.
Most of Oregon’s seven public universities have returned to on-campus classes, with many community colleges still primarily offering online classes this fall.
Colleges and universities experienced even larger declines when measuring full-time equivalent students. This means that students can take fewer courses on average.
Ben Cannon, executive director of HECC, said that typically during recessions or economic turmoil, there is an increase in post-secondary enrollment. But that has yet to happen during the pandemic.
“This commission continues to believe that post-secondary education and training is more vital than ever,” Cannon said at a meeting Friday. “But for many prospective students, there are work opportunities that may decrease their ability or interest in enrolling in post-secondary education and training, especially as costs continue to rise.”
While most community colleges in Oregon saw small increases or decreases in enrollment, one of them saw a big increase. The number of students at Clackamas Community College jumped 23% this fall compared to last year.
The CCC said much of the increase did not come from traditional community college students, but rather from high school students in the area.
“We attribute this increase to our strong partnerships with our local high schools and the strong co-enrollment opportunities we have for our students to take high school courses that also count toward college credits,” Tara Sprehe, Dean of Foundations and of CCC’s academic connections, said in a statement.
CCC partners with more than 40 high schools through its High School Connections programs, which offer students the opportunity to earn free or discounted college credit through the school.
Even with the increase in the number of students enrolled this year, CCC enrollment is still 1,300 lower as of 2019.
Portland Community College experienced one of the most dramatic declines in enrollment in the state last year – about 21% fewer students than in 2019. This year, enrollment continued to decline, increasing about 2.6% more.
“We could attribute this decline to several factors, but mostly to continued economic and family stress in our community,” Katy Ho, CCP vice president of academic affairs, said in a statement.
Ho said childcare, employment, and transportation presented challenges for CCP students during the pandemic.
“We hope our numbers will evolve in a more positive way as our programs and services are there to help our community, and as we do our best to respond to various pressures through increased support for our students,” Ho said.
Oregon’s public universities have seen a bit more stability than community colleges. They had also fared better at the start, in 2020.
Oregon State University and the University of Oregon both saw a more than 2% increase in enrollment.
This year marked a record total enrollment at OSU, and the OU saw a record number of freshmen.
Western Oregon University saw the biggest drop in students this fall compared to last year – a drop of more than 11%.