“The number of students in community colleges in the fall declined by more than half a million, or 10 percent, according to the National Student Clearinghouse Research Center. Of those now enrolled, a fifth say they are likely to delay their graduation because of the coronavirus, a Strada Education Network and Gallup survey found.
The news of that big drop in community college enrollment is eliciting sympathy for students and prospective students who have delayed or slowed down their educations or dropped out. But the potential impact on the national economy of a decline in the supply of graduates with badly needed skills has been largely overlooked.
“Even as you see millions of people stuck on the sidelines or having to step down to lower-paying jobs, you’re seeing skills gaps,” said Matt Sigelman, chief executive of the labor market analytics firm Burning Glass.
“There’s a perhaps even more pernicious impact,” Sigelman said: “In a 21st-century knowledge economy, jobs follow talent much more than they follow labor costs. So if it turns out there’s a critical talent pool that there’s just not enough of, that can drive a company, and ultimately a whole sector, to look at new locations where there’s a more robust supply.”