Studies show that when the economy slows and the job market tightens, the unemployed or underemployed turn to community colleges to improve their skills and their marketability. Therefore it comes as no surprise that over the last two years, many community colleges have seen double-digit increases in enrollment.
Recently, however, the increases have slowed and in some cases community colleges are actually seeing a decline in the number of students they serve.
On the bright side, it could be that enrollment is declining because students are finding jobs and going back to work, but unemployment is still high, even in some states where community college enrollment is falling.
That being the case, then declines in enrollment could be the result of tuition increases that have followed cutbacks in funding for community colleges. The higher cost of going to college, combined with the unstable economy, may have discouraged workers who have jobs from taking time off to pursue their education.
Whatever the reason, fewer students in community colleges is a disturbing trend. If today workers need more education, it follows that in the future they will need even more. Therefore, the state, employers and the education establishment should double efforts to get students into the classroom.
While Alabama community colleges are not experiencing the same enrollment declines that institutions in other states are finding, tuition increases could take a toll in the years to come. We need to be aware of what is taking place elsewhere and guard against it happening here.
Education is the key to unlocking many doors, but without the key, the doors remain shut. If community colleges are where the key will be found, we will all be better off if students are in those institutions. There is no better investment in the future.