The Great Interruption: Lasting Effects Seen in UTC Enrollment

CHATTANOOGA, TENN ( – A steady decline in college enrollment has been nicknamed “The Great Interruption” and has lasting effects that could be seen at the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga

According to research coming out of the National Student Clearinghouse, there has been a decline of more than 1 million students in enrollment since the pandemic began. Building on that same data, universities across the nation are seeing a dramatic decrease in undergraduate students, with some experiencing a drop of nearly 500,000 students.

Video: A steady decline in college enrollment has been nicknamed “The Great Interruption”

For many school leaders, this can be frightening. A decline in college graduates can have visible and lasting impacts on local economies. 

“Enrollment has decreased; however, graduation rates have continued to go up because of some of the work we have done,” said Dr. Yancy Freeman, vice chancellor of Enrollment Management and Student Affairs. “not having a normal process of being able to go visit high schools limited our ability to engage students.” 

UTC students prepare for class in a COVID-19 safe environment.

Freeman said the enrollment percentages are what bring him joy each day. UTC has experienced this drop but is still on track to meet the goals in its strategic plan. The decline in enrollment is small but mighty, accounting for about 3% of the university’s demographic. 

A heavy emphasis has been deployed on getting more first-year students back on campus, a demographic that many universities rely on as their lifeblood. 

“It’s difficult because some of our community college partners have a double-digit increase in their enrollment. We are working to ensure that we get our first-year students back into the fold,” said Freeman.

UTC Students walking past the the famous power ‘C’ on a hot summer day.

The financial strain of the pandemic hits hardest the first-generation graduates who are working one or more jobs to put themselves through school. The pandemic totaled the service industry and has had a heavy impact on those living from it.

“I think taking a year off college was never in anyone’s plans. When it came to the choice of rent or school, the answer was rent,” said UTC junior Monte Pool. “The past few years have been difficult for everyone, especially for people like me who don’t have extra money lying around. 

Freeman said it is crucial for UTC to partner with other industries to better gear their curriculum toward the job market—making an education world-class and a worthy investment.

“We are on track to recover. For this fall, our application numbers are back up, our orientation numbers are back up, so I think we will recover, but covid certainly had a profound impact, which is why you saw this very issue across the country,” said Freeman.

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