As many universities and colleges switched to remote learning during the pandemic, enrollment dropped. Unsurprisingly, many students didn’t find that an online education was worth the thousands of dollars a college education costs. But U.S. News reports that the the college enrollment declines are here to stay:

Enrollment in colleges and universities fell across the U.S. this spring, worsening an ongoing crisis that many had thought would show signs of rebound by now.

“College enrollment declines appear to be worsening,” said Doug Shapiro, executive director of the National Student Clearinghouse Research Center, which released its latest enrollment figures Thursday.

“Although there may be some signs of a nascent recovery, particularly in a slight increase of first-year students, the numbers are small, and it remains to be seen whether they will translate into a larger freshman recovery in the coming fall,” he said on a call with reporters.

The figures show that 662,000 fewer students enrolled in undergraduate programs in spring 2022 than the previous spring – a drop of 4.7%, which is steeper than the decline in fall 2021. To date, the undergraduate student body has dropped by nearly 1.4 million students or 9.4% during the pandemic.

Unsurprisingly, public institutions have experienced the steepest decline (5%) and community colleges within that are even worse (7.8%). U.S. New notes that “The enrollment data comes as a growing number of high schoolers and their families begin considering alternatives to higher education – both as a result of tuition expenses and a growing body of data highlighting earnings potential through alternative avenues.” 

Instead of taking what has become a traditional approach for many—four years of college with growing mountains of debt—many young people are choosing alternate routes. Just as four year colleges are losing students, two-year college and trade schools are growing: “the new enrollment data shows that enrollment in two-year college and skilled trades programs increased significantly this spring, including in the fields of mechanics and repair, culinary, construction and precision and production – though only the growth of construction majors led to pre-pandemic levels of enrollment.” 

This is good news. Paying through the nose for worthless degrees should not be the path for most Americans. While there can be a great value to a degree that is not directly tied to a career path (and I speak here from experience), it’s encouraging to see that young people are questioning the value of a college degree when faced with the reality of astronomical costs and the potential job earnings with said degree.