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Enrollment At NC's Community Colleges Drops Amid Pandemic

Ken Lund/http://bit.ly/NsAEZ0
Enrollment at Central Piedmont Community College dropped by 20% from fall 2019 to fall 2020, according to data from the North Carolina Community College System. The school's enrollment dropped from 30,835 students down to 24,609.

Fewer students have been enrolling in North Carolina's community colleges over the last year, and officials say the pandemic is to blame.

According to figures published online by the North Carolina Community College System, enrollment was down 17% in the fall 2020 semester, compared with the previous year. System President Thomas Stith said nearly every community college in the state was affected.

"Our colleges have been impacted across the state. It hasn't been limited geographically. We have felt the impact of COVID across the 58-college system," he said Friday.

Stith said that anecdotally, some students said they weren't comfortable signing up for classes during the pandemic. Others may have lost jobs or had to help kids with remote schooling.

Workforce training programs and basic skill classes saw the biggest decline in students. Enrollment in workforce training courses plummeted by 30% in the fall semester. Basic skill courses saw a 37% drop in enrollment. Comparatively, enrollment in core curriculum classes dropped by 5%.

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North Carolina Community College System
North Carolina's community colleges saw a dip in enrollment during the COVID-19 pandemic. There were 17% fewer students -- a difference of about 72,500 -- in the fall 2020 semester than there were in fall 2019.
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Stith says he expects enrollment to rebound this year if the pandemic is brought under control and more people decide to reenter the workforce. In the meantime, however, the community college system may need additional aid to stabilize its budget.

"We're working very closely with our legislative leaders now who are very supportive of the community college system to (have them) understand that we'll need budget stabilization," he said, "because the community college system prior to COVID has led in workforce development, workforce training, and so we know that the system will be on the front lines as we recover and regrow our economy."

Nationally, enrollment at community colleges fell by 9.5% from fall 2019 to fall 2020, according to the National Student Clearinghouse.

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Nick de la Canal is a reporter for WFAE covering breaking news, arts and culture, and general assignment stories. His work frequently appears on air and online. Periodically, he tweets: @nickdelacanal