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Local News

Costs for Higher Education Could Lead to Future Labor Shortages Across Wisconsin

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Reinette LeJeune

Enrollment for colleges and universities have fallen once again since the beginning of the pandemic, with over a million fewer students currently enrolled across the country. According to data released by the National Student Clearinghouse Research Center (NSCRC) earlier this year, higher education enrollment is down by 2.7 percent in 2021, following the 2.5 percent decline from the previous year, comprising an estimated decline of 938,000 students. Undergraduate enrollment fell by 3.1 percent, approximately 465,300 fewer students

Every kind of higher education institution saw a decrease in enrollment numbers, with the largest drops reported from public four-year colleges (251,400 fewer students) and the steepest declines reported from private for-profit four-year colleges (an 11.1 percent plunge). Community colleges also plummeted with 161,800 fewer associate degree-seeking students. Continuing this trend, public four-year institutions saw an 11 percent decline, private non-profit four-year institutions saw a 6.2 percent decline, and private for-profit four-year institutions saw a 11.9 percent decline.

According to A Little Help, a report conducted by Wisconsin Policy Forum Director Jason Stein, Wisconsin higher education enrollment rates are currently declining faster than the national average, citing growing financial aid gaps and university costs as primary causes. Mr. Stein warned that many prospective students are forced to carry most of the financial burdens independently, especially students of color, leading many to decide against seeking higher education altogether – a trend that could lead to further skilled labor shortages in the future. “There is good empirical evidence to support the idea that financial aid can boost enrollment rates, it can boost retention rates and graduation rates,” Stein said. “Financial aid is a tool that could be used to chip away at some of the state’s skilled worker shortages.”

Governor Tony Evers has repeatedly called attention to the impact COVID-19 has had on Wisconsin residents – especially those seeking higher education during these uncertain times. The Governor has announced an investment of $5 million into the UW system in order to provide more extensive mental health services to students. In a recently released health survey, 75 percent of UW students screened positive for moderate to severe psychological stress during 2021. The Governor has also proposed that the UW system receive $25 million to secure the state’s tuition freeze for the next two years. “With these additional funds, the UW System and Board of Regents can ensure that tuition prices for our in-state students will not go up for the next two years, giving our students and families one less thing to worry about,” Gov. Evers said.