After pandemic disruption, enrollment at CCAC stabilizes

People walk along Ridge Avenue by CCAC’s Allegheny Campus on Jan. 18, 2024, in Allegheny West. (Photo by Stephanie Strasburg/PublicSource)

Local community college enrollment dropped steadily after 2010, then took a further beating in 2020. Can CCAC now capitalize on a modest rebound to stabilize revenues and fuel the regional workforce?


The Community College of Allegheny County has lost more than a third of its student body since the pandemic derailed the lives and aspirations of current and prospective students. But this fall, enrollment at the college stabilized.

Just over 10,500 students enrolled at the college, known as CCAC, according to data from the institution. That’s about a 0.4% increase from last year. Nationwide, community colleges reported a 4.4% increase from the previous year, preliminary data from the National Student Clearinghouse Research Center shows. 

“We’re out of the pandemic, people are getting better equipped to take in-person classes now. They feel like things are coming back to normal,” said Dorothy Collins, vice president for enrollment services at CCAC. “I think we’re trending upward. I’m happy.” 

While a silver lining, this small bump in enrollment still reflects a 34% drop from fall 2019 – and roughly a 50% drop from fall 2010, around the time community college enrollments peaked nationwide. 

Renewed declines could have significant implications. The college relies on tuition for a sizable share of revenue, and regional employers count on CCAC graduates to fill vital jobs in industries such as health care. On top of that, people without degrees often earn less over their lifetimes than those with them. 

Bringing students back is a priority for CCAC. The college has created a Strategic Enrollment and Retention Management Plan, and the cross-departmental team overseeing the plan will soon set goals around enrollment, retention and affordability, said Collins, who took over this summer. 

The college has not yet set specific numerical goals for boosting enrollment.  

What’s driving the growth?

Tom Brock, director of the Community College Research Center at Teachers College, Columbia University, said the nationwide upswing in community college enrollments is encouraging. He said the boost, though, is largely because they “fell so far during the pandemic that you could say, ‘They could only go back up.’”

CCAC’s Milton Hall on the school’s Allegheny Campus in Allegheny West on Jan. 18. (Photo by Stephanie Strasburg/PublicSource)

Collins attributed CCAC’s recent uptick to the region’s post-pandemic recovery, which may also be reflected in the diversity of the student body. Community colleges often serve communities of color that were disproportionately impacted by the crisis, and this fall, the share of students of color at CCAC exceeded pre-pandemic levels in some areas.

Black students made up about 17% of the student body, up from about 14% in fall 2021. The share of Hispanic and Latino students steadily increased throughout the pandemic, growing from roughly 3% in fall 2019 to 4% in fall 2023. The share of white students declined slightly during that time, from about 61% to 60%, with roughly 1 in 5 students falling into other categories.

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