Dec 9, 2021 - News

Undergraduate enrollment drops at Colorado universities amid pandemic

CU systemwide fall enrollment
Data: CU System; Chart: Thomas Oide/Axios

Undergraduate enrollment within the University of Colorado system is on course to fall for the second year in a row.

Why it matters: A college degree remains the most reliable route to unlock job prospects and higher earnings.

  • The median salary for workers with only a high school diploma is about $39,000, compared to $65,000 for workers with a four-year degree, according to state education officials.

State of play: Three of the University of Colorado's four campuses — CU Denver, UCCS and Anschutz Medical Campus — have seen softening in undergraduate enrollment since the start of the pandemic, Michael Sandler, CU spokesperson, tells Axios.

  • The undergraduate headcount dropped systemwide by 3.2% in fall 2021 compared to 2019.

What they're saying: "As we look at enrollment, we, of course, think about access and affordability … [and] are working hard to implement more ways to help keep costs down," Sandler says.

  • "For example, this recently announced partnership with community colleges will make it easier and more affordable for students to pursue a mechanical engineering degree," he notes.

The upside: Graduate student enrollment across most campuses has continued to increase over the last five years.

  • Between autumn 2019 and this past fall, enrollment jumped by 8%.

The big picture: Enrollment at colleges and universities is shrinking nationwide.

  • Research from the National Student Clearinghouse Research Center found undergraduate enrollment this past fall dropped 3.2%, on top of 3.4% the first fall of the pandemic.
  • And the drop in students — which, combined with declining government support, could put smaller, less-funded schools on a death spiral, Axios' Bryan Walsh writes.

The other side: As minimum wages rise, many people argue a four-year degree isn't worth wrestling with the inevitable realities of rising tuition and crushing student debt coupled with the time commitment of classes.

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