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A new report from the National Student Clearinghouse shows an alarming trend: COVID-19 has slowed the growth of college degree and certificate earners to a standstill. The numbers are the lowest in eight years—and come at the worst possible time, as unemployment soars and millions of Americans are suffering.
The Undergraduate Degree Earners report reveals that the 3.7 million new graduates in the 2019-20 academic year represent no growth—zero—from the previous year. While the number of graduates with prior degrees maintained a slight upward trend, first-time graduates pursuing certificates, associate or bachelor’s degrees decreased by 1 percent or 26,000 students.
This is more than concerning; it’s a national emergency. Not only did the U.S. just report the worst annual economic performance since 1946, but studies show that two-thirds of new jobs require education beyond high school. Adults—who most need to sharpen their skills and learn new ones to compete for jobs—are driving most of these declines. And, given the steep drop in enrollment for adults, especially at community colleges, these trends are likely to continue if we don’t quickly change our practices, tactics, and focus.
The time to act is now. Millions of adults need to skill, upskill or reskill. Semesters are just beginning across the nation and many community colleges offer rolling admissions—especially for certificate programs. There are actionable, immediate steps that we can—and must—take to help people earn degrees and credentials that lead to better jobs and lives. We must:
Clearly, we know how to fix this. We don’t need to research the answers or pilot boutique programs. We know how to serve and support all students—particularly adults of color—and help them keep learning, earning credentials, and leading fulfilled lives.
At a time when the U.S. needs diverse talent more than ever for our economic and social recovery, we as a country are failing. We are moving in the wrong direction. We must put all of our energy into skilling, upskilling, and reskilling millions more Americans.
And as these alarming numbers show, there is no time to waste.Back to News