Higher Education

Higher Education 


Let's take a closer look at recent higher education statistics, how the pandemic has affected the number of university graduates, and what can be done to encourage more young people to pursue higher education.

Higher education in America is constantly being pushed in the K-12 system, but what prevents students from continuing their education?

2021 higher education statistics 

Higher education costs shown with graduate.
Higher Education

According to the Education Data Initiative, fewer Americans will be enrolled in postsecondary education in 2021 than in the previous year. The 2.2% decline was the most extraordinary year-over-year drop since 1951. This is partially due to global events, including the pandemic and the weakening economic status of the country. 

The New York Times found that “enrollment in community colleges was down 13.2 %, or 706,000 students, compared with 2019.” This means that even more affordable options were taking a hit as Americans were forced to reconsider their futures. It is important to note that college attendance has steadily declined since 2010 when it peaked at 21 million new enrollees.

Here are some of the most notable statistics regarding higher education enrollment types as gathered by Education Data:


  • 71.5% of all college students attend four-year institutions.
  • 28.5% of all students participate in two-year institutions.


What has caused the decline in higher education enrollment since 2021? We mentioned a few reasons already, but it is a more complicated issue to consider. So let’s get into some details. 

The declining enrollment in higher education

The National Student Clearinghouse Research Center found that undergraduate enrollment has declined by about 1,205,600 students since 2019. The rising cost of tuition was already driving away prospective enrollees, even in community colleges. Still, the COVID-19 pandemic exacerbated any already existing issues. 

“Without a dramatic re-engagement in their education, the potential loss to these students’ earnings and futures is significant, which will greatly impact the nation as a whole in years to come,” said Doug Shapiro, the executive director of the National Student Clearinghouse Research Center. 

You may be wondering what American students are doing instead of going on to pursue higher education. When inflation is rising, the housing market is steaming hot, and the future is uncertain, many choose to go directly into the workforce after high school. 

According to a report by the Economic Policy Institute, entry-level wages around 2020 were beginning to increase, making working an appealing option for college-age adults. In addition, in 2021, the Bureau of Labor Statistics found that jobs for non-managers in leisure and hospitality paid 15% more than in 2020. This short-term gain seemed like a good option for many, rather than dishing out money and adding to the growing student debt in America in the hopes of a promising future.

Economic effects of fewer degree holders 

Higher education classroom with students in desks.
Higher Education Enrollment Shifts

The long-term impact of lower postsecondary education rates in America will be felt in many ways, especially as it relates to the economy. This means fewer people with the skills needed for specific jobs, known as the skills gap. This is when workers’ knowledge doesn’t match the skills they need for existing positions.


The widening skills gap makes it harder for employers to find workers with the right degrees and requirements for the jobs they need to fill. And because community colleges often supply the workforce with employees who have professional degrees and other credentials, the economic gap will only widen. Then there will be big problems when it comes to infrastructure. The result is a ripple effect including:

  • Decreases in tax revenues.
  • Higher prices for goods and services.
  • Delays in the production along the supply chain then delay services and goods.

Sound familiar? That is because many of these issues caused significant disruptions during the pandemic, which will only worsen if fewer people graduate with at least an undergraduate degree. 

Why tuition is important 

In America, the student debt has reached a whopping $1.75 trillion in 2022. Despite pausing payments during the pandemic, this crushing number no doubt plays a significant role in students deciding whether to continue their education. 

But what about financial aid? This can be helpful in some cases, but the application process can be highly intense and competitive. And, even if someone can get some financial aid, it probably will not be enough to cover the entire cost of school. Public and private universities have risen in price. Still, public schools, particularly, have increased their tuition at a higher rate, according to The Guardian. 

As part of his campaign, President Joe Biden has hinted at student loan forgiveness, which could help in some circumstances. In a speech in early June 2022, President Biden, however, the administration will be holding off on announcing student-loan forgiveness until around the beginning of September

Regardless, higher education is a crucial component of the American economy and long-term personal success for individuals. To learn more about how to engage students and help them pursue higher education, reach out to Agile Education Marketing today. 

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