Home News How colleges can ensure this year’s high school graduates aren’t left behind – Higher Ed Dive

How colleges can ensure this year’s high school graduates aren’t left behind – Higher Ed Dive

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Community college enrollment in particular took a hit last fall. Proactive outreach can help recoup those losses and keep students on track.

Catalina Cifuentes had worked tirelessly to increase college-going among students in Riverside County, California, which ranked dead last among the major metropolitan areas in degree attainment in 2016. Over the course of six years, Cifuentes, the county’s executive director of college and career readiness, helped grow Riverside’s college enrollment rate by more than seven percentage points.

Then the coronavirus pandemic hit, and those hard-fought gains evaporated. This fall, 2,320 fewer students went straight from high school to college than did the year before. Nearly all of that loss was in community colleges.

Cifuentes’ experience is not usual. Nationwide, the community college sector saw a 21% decline in first-time students this past fall. Preliminary data shows big decreases among students from low-income and diverse high schools like Riverside, where 65% of students qualify for free and reduced lunch.

Some would-be first-year students stayed home out of fear they’d contract the virus or spread it to vulnerable family members. Others stuck around to support siblings with online learning. And some chose to work after a parent was furloughed or had their hours cut.

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