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After much speculation in the spring and summer about how the pandemic would affect students’ fall enrollment decisions, new data confirms that many first-year students have opted to delay going to college. The number of freshman starting college this fall has declined by 16%, with an even starker drop of nearly 23% at community colleges, according to new data from the National Student Clearinghouse Research Center.

Experts say that enrollment decline causes additional financial strain for institutions that are already struggling with budget shortfalls. And students who take time off from college are less likely to enroll and earn their degrees.

One of the report’s most surprising findings is just how much community college enrollment has dropped. In previous economic downturns, community college enrollment has actually increased as people look to build skills and earn credentials that make them more attractive in the labor market.