COLORADO SPRINGS, Colo. (KRDO) -- A state report from the Colorado Department of Higher Education shows that following the COVID-19 pandemic, fewer Colorado high school students are making the decision to go to college.
Pikes Peak Community College says the report echoes what they've seen firsthand.
"In 2019, we were up 6% on enrollment," said Warren Epstein, Executive Director of Marketing and Communication at Pikes Peak Community College, "which was pretty darn good. And then the pandemic came along and changed everything, and all the rules were out the window."
Pikes Peak Community College estimated their new student enrollment dropped by 16%.
Epstein believes community colleges saw an even greater decline than four-year institutions due to the already vulnerable populations they serve. Prospective students in a typical year are already navigating an abundance of challenges, and COVID-19 only exacerbated financial stress.
"How am I going to pay my rent? Am I going to find a place to live that's affordable, especially in this community?" said Epstein. "And you put a pandemic on top of that and masks and vaccines and mandates. It just made it so difficult to keep people."
State findings showed a nearly 6% decline in high school graduates pursuing higher education, and that number jumped to 10% for graduates from rural parts of Colorado.
"I think a lot of it was people just putting their lives on hold. You know, during the pandemic you don't know what's going to happen in six months," said Epstein.
Now, Pikes Peak Community College is seeing enrollment almost equal to prior numbers. They believe this is an opportunity for the college to reach even more high school graduates who are on the fence about attending.