Press Release Inequality

Low-Income Community College Students Face Lasting Effects From Deferring

February 17, 2021

Contact: Karen Conner, 202-281-4159Mail_Outline

That the pandemic put a dent in college enrollment last fall is no surprise. Less obvious is the unequal impact deferring college has on low-income community college students. That is the focus of a new article released today by the Center for Economic and Policy Research (CEPR).

Pandemic-Related Drop in College Enrollment Reveals Inequities in Access to Higher Ed, by CEPR researcher Sepideh Jessica Vasseghi, captures a representative picture of declining enrollments and how the decline perpetuates economic inequality. 

Vasseghi explains, “The issue is not simply that a lot of students deferred one year, it is that primarily community college students deferred, which has the potential to perpetuate long-run economic inequality.”

As Vasseghi notes, public two-year colleges or community colleges saw a 10.1 percent decrease in enrollment in fall 2020, which is four times greater than the national decrease of 2.5 percent. The primary driver for student deferments is economic hardship and insecurity brought on by the pandemic. 

While deferring students from higher socioeconomic backgrounds may take internships, independent study, or even international travel opportunities, low-income students may have postponed enrollment in the hopes of finding an income source.

Students who defer community colleges often never return or complete their degrees, which has life-long economic ramifications. Some community colleges may also be forced to close, further limiting access to higher education for low-income students.

Vasseghi suggests targeting stimulus to support students and community colleges hard hit by the pandemic by expanding access to direct stimulus payments, unemployment insurance, and Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP). Ensuring the long-term future of higher education also demands reversing decades of under investment in public colleges. 

Support Cepr

If you value CEPR's work, support us by making a financial contribution.