Oregon’s higher education officials say impacts on enrollment will be ‘significant and largely negative’

Oregon’s higher education officials expect fall enrollment at colleges and universities to be severely impacted by wildfire and the pandemic.

Ben Cannon, executive director of the state Higher Education Coordinating Commission, or HECC, said during a meeting Thursday that the effects on student enrollment of the coronavirus pandemic and historic wildfires that burned in the Northwest will not be clear or official for several more weeks.

But, he said, they will be “significant and largely negative.”

“My prediction is that for our public universities, enrollment will be down anywhere between 1% and 10%, and for our community colleges, that enrollment decline will be greater,” Cannon said.

He said some community colleges could see up to 20% in an enrollment decline compared to last fall.

Typically, in a recession, enrollment increases — particularly at community colleges, Cannon said.

“This may come,” he said, “but, of course, this is not a typical recession, and our colleges are not operating under typical circumstances.”

Cannon said HECC will be looking at where those enrollment declines are concentrated. He said from national reports, those enrollment declines have been particularly pronounced in low-income communities and communities of color.

“We don’t yet have official data from Oregon, but this appears to be yet another example of how the pandemic, and in Oregon, the pandemic and wildfire have and are exacerbating inequities in our systems,” Cannon said.

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