Not only that, but the falloff seemingly has not bottomed out, with enrollment today down 5.5% compared with last fall, CSN officials said.
“We’ve realized that the largest population of students that have made up this decline are underserved, under-resourced students,” James McCoy, the school’s vice president of academic affairs, told the Las Vegas Sun.
“Higher education may not — as a result of the pandemic, as a result of the economy — become a priority” for some students, McCoy said.
The College of Southern Nevada has the largest enrollment among Nevada universities, with almost 34,000 students in 2022.
But it is seeing fewer students enrolling straight out of high school, which is why it is ramping up efforts to reach those students, according to officials.
What is happening at CSN is emblematic of what’s been going on at colleges and universities across the country.
In US undergraduate programs, enrollment has declined by 1.4 million throughout the pandemic, according to a report released by the National Student Clearinghouse Research Center.
Spring 2022 saw a drop of nearly 662,000 students, a 4.7% decrease from the same period the previous year. Public institutions accounted for the majority of the decline, losing 604,000 students including 351,000 from community colleges, according to the report.
In total, community colleges have lost over 827,000 students from the start of the pandemic.
“I thought we would start to see some of the declines begin to shrink a bit this term,” said Doug Shapiro, the center’s executive director. “I am surprised that it seems to be getting worse.”
For the spring 2021 semester, enrollment at Nevada colleges and universities dropped by 4.7%, then another 2% a year later.
At Nevada State College, enrollment had been on the rise until spring 2022. The school had 7,287 students enrolled as of fall 2021, but going into fall 2022, it is looking at 7,215. Only about 34% of that group returned from last year, a retention rate that dropped from the previous year’s 54%.
“Our students are facing a variety of challenges, and some of those students are more impacted than others in terms of what those challenges mean,” said Tony Scinta, executive vice provost at Nevada State College.
Financial pressures are among the top reasons for the decrease in enrollment, as some students are holding off on their education to pursue work, Scinta said.
Each semester, students pay almost $200 per credit in mandatory fees, which can add up to roughly $600 for a three-credit class. That doesn’t include the $150 Special Building fee for students taking more than three credits, a $25 per-credit fee for distance learning, and any fee for special courses — which can vary depending on the class.
A 12-unit semester for students can cost more than $2,000.
The school has taken a number of steps to boost enrollment, including offering more scholarships and grants, as well as other financial aid, he said.
At the University of Nevada, Las Vegas, enrollment had been steadily rising since 2017 but dipped by about 400 undergraduate students in 2021, officials said. The campus reported nearly 26,000 students in fall 2020.
“Anytime we see declines in our student admissions or enrollment, it’s a cause of concern,” said Kate Korgan, senior vice provost of academic affairs.
First-generation students and those facing financial struggles may be the least likely to return, especially considering the financial stress the COVID-19 pandemic caused.
“We have been quite intentional about making sure that students who have the fewest financial resources and are at the greatest financial risk of not being able to stay in school have received pretty tremendous support,” Korgan said.
UNLV has also stepped up its recruitment efforts, including more virtual admissions sessions, said.
“We feel really good overall about where we’ve landed. … It feels like we’re moving into something that looks like a new normal,” Korgan said.