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Washington College Enrollment Continues Slide Despite Increased Investment

(The Center Square) – College enrollment has continued to decline in Washington despite increased investment in education.

The 2019 passage of the Workforce Education Investment Act was intended to inject nearly $1 billion into Washington higher education over four years according to one estimate. Yet 2022 enrollment continued the downward trend even as pandemic-related restrictions were eased

College enrollment declined 21% from 2010 to 2020 according to data from the Office of Financial Management, mirroring a continuing national trend. The sharpest drop, 12%, occurred in 2020 resulting in a loss of more than 32,000 students.

The OFM attributed the decline to stagnant population growth among the college-aged population as the children of Baby Boomers entered that demographic, but predicted that modest growth would occur after 2020.

That rebound has not happened in Washington, where spring enrollment dropped another 10.7% between 2020 and 2022 according to data from the National Student Clearinghouse.

The pandemic is often cited as an accelerator of the decline in college enrollment. At the peak of the Omicron variant surge, nearly 7,500 K-12 schools experienced a disruption in the learning experience according to Burbio.

Some experts see other factors at work as well. Miguel Cardona, U.S. Secretary of Education, cited the perceived cost vs. benefit of a college degree as one reason fewer high school graduates are choosing higher education.

“Today, too many talented Americans are choosing against enrolling in higher education due to the fear of debt and the feeling that college is out of reach” Cardona said in a January address. Also, “To elevate our education system to lead the world, we must transform education beyond high school so that it works for everybody, and so that it leads to well-paying, rewarding careers.”

Nationally, undergraduate enrollment in 2021 dropped 4.7% from the previous year. Enrollment in 2020 had dropped 4.9%, making a two-year decrease of 1.4 million students versus pre-pandemic enrollments. Community colleges have been hit hardest, sustaining a 17% drop over that period.

Workforce Education Investment Act was created to assist institutions of higher learning to meet operations, compensation, and program costs as well as provide expanded student aid, through a tax surcharge on companies that employ highly-skilled workers.