Community College Crisis: Enrollment Challenges

Community College Crisis: Enrollment Challenges

In many economic downturns, cost-conscious families turn to more financially feasible options. With the average cost of college enrollment now climbing over $41,000 a year, community college is an accessible alternative, especially as travel restrictions mean more young people staying closer to home. But new research released in December 2020 reveals startling statistics, and an alarming trend for community colleges, as higher education institutions around the country grapple with the ongoing challenges the pandemic presents. Across the country, postsecondary enrollments declined 2.5% in fall 2020, nearly twice the rate of enrollment decline reported in fall 2019. But even more striking is the decline in community college enrollment – a 21% enrollment decrease on average, falling at a rate almost 20 times higher than pre-pandemic decline. The statewide drop New York is experiencing means community colleges need to get creative to appeal to students.

Creative Recruiting

Traditionally, the college application process can be a major source of stress for students. But with fewer students opting to pursue higher education some schools like Clinton Community College (CCC), are going after students to boost engagement. The Albany Times Union reports that if CCC gets federal approval, it will launch a program that would allow inmates at nearby Clinton Correctional Facility in Dannemora to take classes remotely. This would offset the community college’s loss of about 45% of its student enrollment over the last decade. They’re not alone in needing to fill class spots. New York’s 64-campus State University system opened this semester with 5.7% fewer students than it had one year ago according to data released by SUNY administrators. Several campuses offering graduate programs have seen a significant drop of 20% in the number of international students they attract. The statewide drop has been paced by a decline of some 10% in enrollments at SUNY’s community colleges. Expanding outreach and offering remote access to nontraditional groups is one creative option to offset costs and create sustainable growth in the coming years.

Keep Connected

Without in-person events, campus tours, or high school counseling sessions, students can start to feel disconnected from their education path. The National College Attainable Network suggests the administration should continue contact with students from the class of 2021 regularly so kids know where to turn when they need support. That means keeping email addresses, phone numbers, and other communications avenues updated so that as opportunities to get back on a postsecondary pathway arise, students can stay in the know. Additionally, the NCAN recommends adding more postsecondary on-ramps for the class of 2021. That might look like increasing support for national service programs like AmeriCorps and strengthening the college and career readiness programming they provide. Did you know that parents are the top influencer when it comes to students’ enrollment decisions? Students who provide parent contact information permitting schools to contact parents directly are 53% more likely to submit a college application according to EAB data.

Unfortunately, even in a pre-pandemic world, community colleges were facing challenges. A survey of college and university admissions directors completed by Inside Higher Ed revealed that 84% of community colleges have seen enrollment declines over the past two years. The implications of this new “lost class” are expected to be felt on a wide basis as young adults enter the workforce out of high school. While some are opting to take a gap year and resume education when in-person learning resumes, research shows students who delay enrollment are 64% less likely than their “on-time” peers to complete a bachelor’s degree and 18% less likely to complete any college credential. As we begin to feel the impact of the rollout and distribution of Covid-19 vaccines, a return to normalcy is on the horizon. Student outreach is the most important part of the next few months to increase awareness and encourage enrollment.

Crash Course in Cash Management

Crash Course in Cash Management

A new year means a fresh look at what’s working and what’s not – in all aspects of life. Here we are (finally) in 2021, and while the Covid-19 pandemic rages on, there are some bright spots to keep in mind. 140,000 New Yorkers have received the first Covid-19 vaccine dose to date and New York expects to receive another 259,000 doses this week. But while we are taking steps to protect the physical health of our frontline heroes, it doesn’t mean that the healthcare industry as a whole has good financial health – in fact, far from it. The American Hospital Association (AHA) estimates that from March to June, the pandemic cost hospitals around $202.6 billion. If you’ve been scratching your head trying to reimagine cost-savings measures, you’re not alone. For starters, you’ve probably re-examined supply chain operations and discussed opportunities to beef up your organization’s personal protective equipment (PPE) inventory for the coming months. But what emerging best practices can your team adopt to help achieve better working capital amidst this unpredictable environment?


Your healthcare system’s ability to pay off its obligations is a central measure of its financial health. Improve liquidity ratios by paying off liabilities, cutting back on costs, using long-term financing, and managing receivables and payables. There are many ways to approach liquidity, but for starters, we suggest that you examine areas your team can cut costs and consider your accounts payable. You can often negotiate longer payment terms with certain vendors – but if you never ask, you’ll never get the extension. Remember to frame your request in a way that makes the arrangement mutually beneficial. For example, more cash flexibility could be exchanged for several glowing referrals to industry connections. A hospital that can pay its expenses and pay down its debts through the profits it generates from its operations is one that is likely to succeed.

Trim Wisely

When it comes to cutting costs, always align professional fees with clinical demand. If you notice a particular service lacks a financially positive growth trajectory, it’s time to modify or eliminate it. You can also consider removing capital projects that are no longer feasible or lack full funding. On the flip side, prioritize high-demand clinical services you expect to grow, and explore partnerships to create regional solutions that share cost and risk. You can also perform rolling budget updates to consider the ongoing economic impact on payor mix and volume.

Tech Flexibility

Embrace and expand telemedicine options. Despite the overwhelming challenges of the past year, Moody’s ranks U.S. for-profit hospitals as stable, with volumes expected to gradually recover from 2020 levels, while continued government aid and positive commercial and Medicare rate increases will drive growth. According to Moody’s latest report, technology and innovation will allow more procedures to be conducted outside of the hospital, and can also significantly help hospitals increase efficiency, improve patient outcomes, and save costs. By integrating long-term telehealth services, you will be saving money and expanding access to underserved communities, a true win-win.

Balancing Act

There are four common balance sheet (statement of financial position) mistakes we’d like to help your organization avoid:

  • Omitting transactions
  • Recording transactions incorrectly
  • Not classifying data correctly
  • Forgetting to record inventory changes

The best way to avoid these errors is to check your balance sheet frequently (not just when you need to), and keep your financial documents organized. Compare the current reporting period with previous ones. Calculating financial ratios and trends can help you identify lurking financial pitfalls. Ask your team a few questions to gain a more transparent understanding of your financial makeup. Do you have more assets? Have you accrued more debt or invested in new equipment and facilities? Are your financial obligations (current liabilities) under control? Is the amount that payers owe you growing?

Without additional funding and significant transformation, the healthcare industry is likely to experience rapidly eroding liquidity in the coming months. On our road back to normal, organizations need to make drastic structural and operational changes. Now is the time to revisit cost-saving ideas your team may have previously considered but not set in motion. Acting now will improve short-term liquidity and pave the way for a more sustainable operation in the years to come.

Additional Sources:

Healthcare Financial Management Association