KNOXVILLE, Tenn. — A new study shows since the start of the pandemic, the number of people enrolling in higher education is down at both 2-year and 4-year colleges across the country. It's the biggest drop in 50 years. In Tennessee, the number has dropped by 9% in the last 2 years.
A new report from the Tennessee Higher Education Commission shows fewer and fewer students are also graduating college. In 2021, only 52.8% of high school students in the state enrolled in college straight after high school. That's a 4% drop from the year before.
"Unfortunately, the last 2 years have resulted in a nine-percentage point decline in the state's college-going rate," said Krissy Dealejandro, the President of Tennessee Achieves.
That's roughly 7,000 fewer Tennessee students enrolling in college. Dealejandro said the drop is being blamed largely on the COVID-19 pandemic.
"We think because of online learning, we think because of opportunities to go directly into the workforce and earn more than you could several years ago,” Dealejandro said.
In a survey administered by the commission, around 20% of respondents said that the pandemic had changed their plans for the fall after graduating from high school, and another 18% responded they were unsure if the pandemic had changed their plans
"We're thinking about the marathon and not the sprint for students and making sure they understand what a college education yields for them in the long run," Dealejandro said.
Data show a bachelor's degree holder earns a median of $2.8 million over their entire lifetime — 75% more than if they had only a high school diploma.
Experts say the likelihood a high school graduate will go to college rapidly decreases if they don't immediately enroll. Students can find scholarship resources on the TNAchieves website.