Disappearing Students Drag Down U.S. Higher Education
Students have deserted less selective schools
When it comes to betting on college students, the Ralph Lauren crowd is where the dollars are. The emptying-out of campuses at the beginning of the pandemic has turned not into a broad-based bounce-back, but a recovery focused on the Ivy League, as students desert less selective schools. Yale and Harvard will prosper in 2022, but companies and investors who were betting on a return to earlier educational trends face a reckoning.
Total undergraduate enrollment is down around 8 percent since the onset of COVID-19, according to data from the National Student Clearinghouse. And whether it's renting out copies of The Canterbury Tales or helping students cram after class, companies who serve American undergraduates are beginning to feel the drag. Textbook provider Chegg, publishing firm Pearson and education technology provider Coursera all fielded difficult questions from analysts in 2021 about disappearing customers. All three firms' share prices tumbled during the year, with Chegg down over 60 percent.
The scariest part of the enrollment data isn't the headline drop, but how widely colleges are feeling the pain. Losses in enrollments in the immediate aftermath of pandemic-spurred lockdowns were concentrated in two-year community colleges, the often publicly funded institutions that offer job-specific certifications or act as stepping stones towards bachelor's degrees. The trend is now spreading out across most four-year institutions.
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