Taking Action: TX Community Colleges’ Declining Enrollment

While Texas recovers from the impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic in many ways, the state also continues to hemorrhage community college enrollments. This defies historical trends where community colleges typically served more students during periods of economic instability so that they could find secure employment. One possible reason is the state’s red hot jobs market. 

Texas has broken its jobs record for seven months straight since November 2021.

At the same time, wages are also consistently rising. Average hourly wages were up 5.1% between June 2021 and June 2022. However, longer-term trends show that market demand is shifting towards skilled labor. 

By 2030, 62% of all jobs in Texas will require a postsecondary education.

Though the current market may be offering high-paying jobs requiring minimal education and training, these opportunities will be volatile, and Texans who do not have a credential validating their knowledge and skills will not be as competitive when the job market cools off. Texas community colleges can help the state build a high-quality workforce, but this will require an organized solution for their enrollment challenges.

Source: Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board, Update to the Texas Commission on Community College Finance, June 21, 2022

Estimates for Spring 2022 enrollments suggest that more action is needed to address the pandemic’s impact on enrollment.

The Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board recently provided updates on continued enrollment declines for Texas community colleges. They estimate that a majority of Texas colleges will see declines of up to 20% or more when comparing Spring 2020 and 2022 enrollments. 

These negative trends are consistent with national estimates as well. The National Student Clearinghouse reported that Texas will see a 6% decline in public two-year enrollments between Spring 2021 and Spring 2022. Although all of our peer states are projected to experience enrollment declines, several will experience less severe declines. North Carolina enrollments, for example, will decline by only 1.8% for its public two-year institutions. 

Community colleges are particularly important because of the types of programs they offer.

The Texas Workforce Commission states that the majority of jobs in Texas (54%) are considered “middle skills” jobs that require some postsecondary education and training but not necessarily a four-year degree. However, only 45% of Texans have this type of credential, meaning about 1.4 million Texans are not equipped with the skills they need to access available, good-paying jobs.

Texas community college programs are responsive to middle skills jobs, offering students nimble pathways to employment that can be completed in two years or, in the case of workforce-aligned credentials such as certificates and certifications, in six months or less. 

Texas community colleges are key not only to meet employers’ workforce needs but also to provide Texans with efficient options to economic security and, ultimately, mobility. Ensuring that our state’s community college enrollments recover — and grow — in the coming years is necessary for a high-quality workforce. 

The Texas Commission on Community College Finance, which is charged by the state Legislature to produce recommendations that will sustain community colleges while improving student outcomes, plays a crucial role in tackling the enrollment issue. The Commission will be drafting recommendations over the next several months with a final report due to the Legislature by November 1.

Texas 2036 presented testimony to the Commission highlighting areas of opportunity where state incentives for workforce-aligned credentials can be improved. By making the connection between a student’s higher education and the potential return-on-investment in terms of wages and employment, the value of a community college education can be more clearly communicated to potential students. 

To see the Commission’s previous meetings and its materials, visit highered.texas.gov.

Interested in more Education and Workforce issues? Read Renzo Soto’s take on how “Work-Based Learning Can Help Achieve Texas’ Vision for a High-Quality Workforce.”