CCAC’s enrollment dropped during the pandemic. What could this mean for Allegheny County?

Andria Linamen, 22, put her studies at CCAC on hold for the spring 2021 semester due to online learning challenges and scheduling conflicts. (Photo by Lucas Zheng/PublicSource)

More than nine in 10 of CCAC graduates go on to live and work locally, but thousands fewer students have enrolled during the pandemic.


by Emma Folts, PublicSource

The pandemic has upended the lives of students across Allegheny County, but it has been especially disruptive to those at the county’s community college.

Thousands fewer students have enrolled in the Community College of Allegheny County [CCAC], which saw a 16.6% drop in students in fiscal year 2021. That came on top of a nearly 6% decline from the fiscal year before.

Students at CCAC were directly affected by the pandemic in many ways, CCAC President Quintin Bullock said. Early on, they lost entry-level jobs and positions in industries clobbered by the virus, such as the hospitality industry. They grappled with uncertainty when vaccines were not yet available. And all the while, they’ve navigated financial worries and food insecurity, as well as childcare and job responsibilities.

The disruption has been unrelenting, Bullock said. “Then, here comes the Delta variant, then comes the Omicron variant, that, surprisingly, directly impacted students.”

Community colleges across the country have seen the sharpest declines in enrollment since the pandemic began. Though the nationwide decline was smaller this fall than the last, the drops were even steeper at community colleges in Pennsylvania: Fall 2021 enrollment fell 13.1% from fall 2020, following an 11.6% decline from 2019 to 2020, according to January data from the National Student Clearinghouse Research Center.

The loss of students pursuing post-secondary education at CCAC may impact not only an individual’s financial wellness but also the region’s economic vitality, as more than nine in 10 of CCAC graduates go on to live and work locally. Community colleges like CCAC support area employers and train workers in industries the country relies on, said Tom Brock, director of the Community College Research Center, Teachers College, Columbia University. 

“If fewer students are going to community college, getting those degrees, our society will pay the long-term consequences,” Brock said. “Community colleges tie into all of this in terms of our country’s long-term ambitions and hopes for itself.”

What’s causing the declines?

Facing remote learning challenges and scheduling conflicts, 22-year-old Andria Linamen decided to put her studies at CCAC on hold for the spring 2021 semester. 

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