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The number of students attending Texas community colleges fell below enrollment at four-year universities in the state for the first time since the 1990s, as many two-year schools continue to face strong demand. decline in registrations due to the COVID-19 pandemic, according to the Texas Higher Education Coordinating Council.
Community colleges saw an almost 11% drop during the pandemic, equivalent to a loss of about 80,000 students.
Meanwhile, public university enrollments have jumped nearly 2% during this period. Independent universities remained stable, while the number of students enrolled in health-related institutions increased by almost 10%.
While the number of university students in two years has fallen below that of schools in four years by only around 2,000 students, the state’s higher education leaders say it is a significant shift for the two-year sector, which for decades has touted itself as the most accessible and affordable option for low-income Texans.
Overall, preliminary data released this week by the Coordinating Council shows college enrollment has declined by about 4% statewide since 2019, before the pandemic began.
At a board meeting this week, Higher Education Commissioner Harrison Keller told the board that many community colleges expect student numbers to increase during the pandemic, just as they traditionally do. during economic recessions when unemployment rises and students seek cheaper alternatives.
“It didn’t happen,” Keller said. “In fact, what has happened is striking: University enrollment has continued to increase. They continued to increase their numbers.
Higher education leaders said they did not fully understand why two-year schools have seen these massive declines. But Keller pointed to a decline in the number of high school students taking credit college courses, known as “double enrollment,” during the pandemic. Before the pandemic, double credit had become a growing industry for many community colleges.
Keller also said the funding has played a role for some smaller community colleges that lack the capacity to offer a wider range of resources like child care or pantries that have proven to help children. students who find it difficult to cope with the responsibilities of life outside the classroom. .
Texas community colleges are funded on the basis of past student numbers, and the Texas legislature used enrollment figures during the pandemic to budget for the next two years, resulting in budget cuts for 24 of the 50 colleges community.
According to the Coordinating Council, overall enrollments since 2019 have fallen 5.5% among white students, 5% among Hispanic students and 4% among black students.
Although there are still more female students in Texas than men, the decline in male student numbers during the pandemic has rebounded faster than female enrollment, which has continued to decline this year. Male enrollment increased by around 23,000 students from 2020 to 2021, while female enrollment declined by roughly the same amount, meaning that there are 40,000 fewer female students enrolled in higher education in state than before the COVID-19 pandemic.
In many cases, it is difficult to paint the higher education figures in Texas with a wide brush. Much of the registration table varies by region and sector.
The decreases and increases experienced by schools vary widely between two- and four-year schools. According to the Coordinating Council, two-year state and community colleges have seen their enrollments drop – one school by up to 28% – with just four two-year schools seeing an increase in enrollment.
As for public universities, fluctuations in student enrollment were just as varied. Texas Southern University has 16% fewer students than in 2019, while other universities have seen an increase. Texas A&M University at Galveston saw a whopping 32% increase. Overall, 24 of 37 four-year public institutions saw more students enrolled.
While the two-year sector is struggling, Keller said some schools, like Lone Star College in the Houston area, have remained stable and Texas State Technical College, a two-year school with campuses across state, saw growth after an initial decline in enrollment.
TSTC, has grown by approximately 4,900 students since 2019.
In addition, some areas, including West Texas and the Gulf Coast, which includes Houston, saw enrollments increase this fall, while areas in the rest of the state saw enrollments remain stable or decrease from relative to last year.
The Coordinating Council expects to have final fall registration numbers by January.
Disclosure: Lone Star College has financially supported The Texas Tribune, a nonprofit, non-partisan news organization funded in part by donations from members, foundations, and corporate sponsors. Financial support plays no role in the journalism of the Tribune. Find a full list of them here.