NASHVILLE, Tenn. (WTVF) — It's a trend being seen nationwide, with fewer students opting for higher education.
A new study by the Nashville Public Education Foundation showed in 2021 only 44% of Metro Nashville Public Schools high school graduates enrolled in college.
"Definitely COVID in 2020 was the big hit in what we're really attributing this nine percent decline over the last two years the class of 2020 and the class of 2021," said Jennifer Hill, vice president of policy and programming for the Nashville Public Education Foundation.
Hill said while the pandemic has posed challenges the question of affordability continues to be a key factor in going to college.
"Do we need to go to work right now or should we go to college and do we have the funds to be able to do both of those things? I think those are conversations that are happening a lot around a lot of kitchen tables right now," she said.
The study did show some improvement in student persistence. The percentage of college students returning for their second year of college did not decline as far as previously expected and stayed at 73%.
However, the numbers also show an uneven decline. According to the study, the equity gap by race is larger than ever before for both Black and Latinx students.
Nichole Davari is the program director for the YMCA Latino Achievers. A program that helps increase college enrollment rates for Latinx students through tours, workshops and mentoring.
She said there is a lot of room for improvement but is hopeful that the return to in-person classes will help the numbers rebound.
"This year you know we are intentionally serving and just like one-on-one serving close to 200 students in seven different MNPS high schools," she said.
Davari said YLA helps students regardless of immigration status and provides scholarships to them as well.
According to the study, 62% of the MNPS 2021 graduating class live below the poverty line. Davari said for many students financial challenges stand in the way of thinking that a college is an option, which is why donations to their scholarship fund can be life-changing.
If you would like to donate to the scholarship fund, you can do so online.
On Tuesday, the district announced a new initiative, University of MNPS, that will look to partner with higher education institutions in the city to increase college access.