Over the past year, there's been plenty of talk about "The Great Resignation." But one area that has received less attention is actually another key trend to emerge from the pandemic: Fewer and fewer people are going to college. In this segment of Backstage Pass, recorded on Jan. 14, Fool.com contributors Toby Bordelon and Connor Allen discuss.
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Toby Bordelon: College enrollment dropped again this past fall, fall of 2021, according to the New York Times, enrollment dropped 3.1% from 2020. When you go back to 2019, the fall of semester, a 6.6% drop in 2019, and recall this last fall, we had vaccines widely available for college-aged students for faculty. If you wanted to be vaccinated and you were that, even if you were going to college, you actually could have been. This is total enrollment. These numbers include people who might have been doing distance learning. We're not talking about just enrollment on campus.
We're talking about enrollment in higher education institutions in the fall of 2021, the fall of semester. It's not just these expensive four-year colleges. The same New York Times article noted that community college enrollment is down 13% from 2019, so more than double the total overall number.
That's big. That's significant to me. My question for you guys is, is this a temporary blip? Do you think it's just temporary? Is this going to maybe change in the next year or two with the pandemic wind down or is this a permanent change we're seeing here? What do you think, Connor?
Connor Allen: I think this may be somewhat permanent. I think there is a little bit of a shift going on. I don't think it's because of fear of COVID. I don't think that was the problem. That's not what started it. I think it was frustration with COVID learning, and I think a lot of people were just like, "I don't want to pay this amount of money to do this and so I'm just not going to go to school." There's quite a few of my friends who just took a year off from college, some of which are not going back. They're like, "I've got a job. I'll just keep on working and maybe eventually I'll go back."
I feel like that's how a lot of people are. Maybe it was a semester or two that they took off because they didn't want to go through Zoom university like the rest of us, and after their supposed break, they don't want to go back. It's also, I think the fact that tuition costs, especially for four-year universities, and this doesn't really go to the point about community colleges because those are relatively at least a lot cheaper.
But for four-year universities, I think there's a little bit of a repercussion on the high tuition costs that people have been paying for so long in that people actually stopped for the first time ever and thought, is it worth it to go into $200,000 of debt to go to this college for four years? I don't think at any time before this, there had been a time where the whole society stopped and thought about this. Like how valuable is this really? I think that that might be part of it, but that's my take on that issue.