(ABC4) – More than 1 million fewer students are in college now than before the pandemic began. College enrollment has slowly been declining each year since 2012.

Many students chose not to attend college during the pandemic and found work instead, but now some are finding it difficult to give up their paycheck to attend school full time.

Doug Shapiro from the National Student Clearinghouse told NPR news, “The longer they stay away from college, you know, life starts to happen, and it becomes harder and harder to start thinking about yourself going back into a classroom.”

Many colleges are choosing to address these issues in different ways. Reentry programs are a way to guarantee students can return to school after they have taken a long absence due to the pandemic.

Other colleges are offering incentives for students to enroll. Many community colleges are offering grants and scholarships. Other universities have chosen to waive application fees, extend deadlines and allow students to retake classes they failed for free.

“Local communities have the most at stake when someone puts college off because their local economies suffer when workers aren’t qualified for the best jobs,” said Shapiro.”

Declines in college enrollment may continue, which can have consequences on many different levels.

“You can’t run your business if you literally cannot find people to work in that business,” said Tolani Britton, of the University of California, Berkeley to NPR news.

And when businesses struggle, she says, “That has implications for things like decreases in tax revenues, higher prices for goods and services, delays in the production of services and goods like we’ve seen during the pandemic. And many of those things will only get worse if there are fewer people to fill the jobs.”