Where Did All the Community College Students Go? Comparing Demographics

Blog Post
Jennifer G. Lang / Shutterstock.com
March 18, 2021

This blog post is the first in a series that explores the data from New America's Community College Enrollment Survey. Our next post explores why men stopped out.

In times of economic recessions, as seen during the Great Recession, community colleges usually see enrollment growth as unemployed workers look for training and credentials needed in a tough labor market. The pandemic-induced recession has been a different story for community colleges. COVID-19 has hit Black, Latinx, low-income communities and essential service workers particularly hard. Since community colleges serve large shares of these populations, instead of an enrollment explosion, there has been a stark enrollment decline of about 10 percent this past fall according to recent data from National Student Clearinghouse.

To understand the reasons why this enrollment decline occurred and the challenges faced by current, former, and would-be community college students, New America commissioned Lake Research Partners to conduct a community college enrollment survey (full topline data can be downloaded here). This nationally representative survey was conducted between December 1 to December 16, 2020. It included a sample of 1,696 adults: 501 who were enrolled in spring 2020 and continued enrollment in fall (“continuers/transfers”); 500 who were enrolled in the spring but did not enroll in the fall (“stop-outs”); 195 who considered enrollment in the spring and enrolled in the fall (“new students”); and 500 who considered enrolling in the spring but did not enroll in the fall (“aspirants”).

Our initial analysis was published this past January, but this month, we’ll explore some of the data more in depth, looking at particular differences in demographics. In this first post, we’ll give an overview of the various demographics of continuers, transfers, stop-outs, new students, and aspirants to have a better understanding how these groups are similar or different from one another.

Gender

The gender breakdown among our five groups is fairly similar. Each group is majority female which tracks with data from the latest National Postsecondary Aid Study (NPSAS) collected in 2015-16 from the U.S. Department of Education. According to that data, 55 percent of community college students were women.

Female Male
Continuers (n=342) 64% 36%
Transfers (n=159) 56% 43%
Stop-Outs (n=500) 65% 34%
New Students (n=195) 68% 30%
Aspirants (n=500) 67% 31%

Age

The proportion of those between the ages of 18-29 tended to be higher for those who are currently enrolled. Overall, 79 percent of continuers, 69 percent of transfers, and 55 percent of new students were between the ages of 18-29. Meanwhile, 51 percent of stop-outs and 39 percent of aspirants were between the ages of 18-29.

18-24 25-29 30-39 40-49 50+
Continuers (n=342) 64% 15% 14% 6% 1%
Transfers (n=159) 51% 18% 20% 11% 1%
Stop-Outs (n=500) 34% 17% 26% 13% 10%
New Students (n=195) 37% 18% 24% 12% 9%
Aspirants (n=500) 24% 15% 28% 17% 15%

Race

Continuers, transfers, and stop-outs all had a similar breakdown in terms of race and ethnicity. New students and aspirants were majority white.

White Black Latinx Asian/PI Native American Middle Eastern
Continuers (n=342) 37% 26% 31% 7% 6% 3%
Transfers (n=159) 40% 28% 26% 9% 5% 5%
Stop-Outs (n=500) 45% 25% 17% 8% 9% 3%
New Students (n=195) 58% 14% 15% 7% 7% 2%
Aspirants (n=500) 61% 17% 14% 3% 7% 1%

Caregiving

According to NPSAS 2016, one in four community college students is caring for a dependent child. New America’s survey shows the population of community college students might have much higher caregiving responsibilities. When asked if any children under the age of 18 are living in the same household, approximately forty percent or more of each of our five groups responded they did.

Yes No
Continuers (n=342) 40 56
Transfers (n=159) 53 45
Stop-Outs (n=500) 41 54
New Students (n=195) 39 58
Aspirants (n=500) 48 49

Employment Characteristics

Our five groups of current, former, and prospective community college students experienced fairly high rates of unemployment before the COVID-19 crisis. The economic recession has only increased the numbers of those unemployed--almost one in four of our groups is currently unemployed and looking for work as of December 2020. Of those currently employed, nearly three out of five works an essential job.

Pre-COVID Employment

Employed Unemployed, looking for work
Continuers (n=342) 61% 16%
Transfers (n=159) 75% 9%
Stop-Outs (n=500) 65% 17%
New Students (n=195) 61% 14%
Aspirants (n=500) 58% 13%

Post-COVID Employment

Employed Unemployed, looking for work
Continuers (n=342) 47% 23%
Transfers (n=159) 62% 16%
Stop-Outs (n=500) 46% 24%
New Students (n=195) 40% 27%
Aspirants (n=500) 42% 23%

Student Characteristics

One difference that emerged among our current and former students is that a smaller share of stop-outs were full-time students. Similarly, a smaller proportion of stop-outs compared to the other groups said they needed licensure to work in their desired field.

Enrollment Status

Full-Time Part-Time
Continuers (n=342) 62% 35%
Transfers (n=159) 74% 24%
Stop-Outs (n=500) 49% 45%
New Students (n=195) 63% 35%
Aspirants (n=500) n/a n/a

Licensure Required for Desired Field

Yes No
Continuers (n=342) 67% 21%
Transfers (n=159) 74% 19%
Stop-Outs (n=500) 50% 40%
New Students (n=195) 57% 29%
Aspirants (n=500) n/a n/a

Methodology

Lake Research Partners designed and administered this survey which was conducted online from December 1st through 16th, 2020 and reached a total of n=1,696 respondents who were screened from a national online panel of mobile users into one of four potential groups:

  1. “Continuers” and “Transfers” were enrolled in a public vocational or technical college, public community college, or public two-year college in both the spring and fall of 2020, or were enrolled in a public four-year college or private two or four-year college in the spring of 2020 and transferred into a public vocational or technical college, public community college, or public two-year college in the fall of 2020. A total of n=501 interviews were conducted with this group, of which n=342 were among those who continued their enrollment (known as “Continuers”) and n=159 who transferred to a public vocational, public community, or public two-year college (known as “Transfers”).
  2. “Stop-outs” were enrolled in a public vocational or technical college, public community college, or public two-year college in the spring of 2020 and are no longer enrolled. A total of n=500 interviews were conducted with “Stop-outs.”
  3. “New Students” considered enrolling in a public vocational or technical college, public community college, or public two-year college earlier in the year and are currently enrolled. A total of N=195 interviews were conducted with “New Students.”
  4. “Aspirants” had considered enrolling in a public vocational or technical college, public community college, or public two-year college earlier in the year and are not currently enrolled. A total of N=500 interviews were conducted with “Aspirants.”

The margin of error is +/- 4.4% for “Continuers,” “Stop-outs,” and “Aspirants” and +/- 7.0% for “New Students.”

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