Steepest Declines in 2020 Were Among Junior Colleges, Technical, and Trade Schools

College and university staffing increased by 51% between January 1999 and January 2020, with a decline of 9% in 2020 during the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic. Other postsecondary schools also saw growth during the same timeframe, with employment increasing by 192% through January 2020, followed by a decline of 19% thereafter. The most significant declines were in local government, postsecondary employment, and office and administrative support positions.

These findings are contained in a new research brief, Postsecondary Education Staffing, from MissionSquare Research Institute (formerly known as the Center for State and Local Government Excellence at ICMA-RC). Download the research.

Employment in technical and trade schools trended upward through 2014, with a 67% increase. Subsequently, this segment declined by 13% through January 2020 and another 13% from January to December 2020. Junior colleges saw a few peaks in employment during the past 20 years but declined by 51% from October 2010 to January 2020.

The research brief examines the postsecondary education workforce, including current staffing, projected workforce levels and the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic as well as trends in high school graduation rates, college enrollment and shifts in employment between various types of public and private schools. Authored by Gerald Young, Senior Research Analyst at MissionSquare Research Institute, the research follows a recent report with a comprehensive overview of the U.S. public service workforce, including state and local government, education, health care, and nonprofit organizations.

Postsecondary education involves a wide array of providers, from local community college districts to state universities, nonprofit and for-profit colleges, and a mix of technical and career training centers. This differs from the K–12 education sector, which is more centered around local school districts or nonprofit providers.

“The pandemic has placed extraordinary burdens on postsecondary education – from finances to workforce to technology issues,” Young said. “Understanding the underlying structures and labor force needs of the wide range of education employers helps inform efforts to recruit and retain skilled employees, now and into the future.”

Additional key findings, drawing on data from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics National Employment Matrix, are as follows:

  • Prior to the pandemic, the projected employment figures through 2029 showed increases in employment for all types of colleges, universities and professional schools, with larger increases at local (19%) and private institutions (9%) as opposed to state colleges (2%). Areas projected to see significant decline in employment were local junior colleges (13%), state technical or trade schools (31%), and private junior colleges (47%).
  • The impact of the pandemic on workforce retirement varies. Those in direct public contact roles may have been more inclined to accelerate retirement plans for health reasons, whereas those able to work remotely may have been better positioned to postpone that decision. With 41% of colleges reducing or stopping their matching contributions to pension plans, employees may have felt less financially prepared for retirement.
  • The pandemic hurt revenues, staffing, and technology. Rather than just returning to business as usual, this could spawn a strategic reassessment of how academics, administration, and career training are structured and foster experimentation around cost controls, semester schedules or hybrid in-person, online, inter-disciplinary, or project-based curricula.
  • Automation may decrease the need for administrative or customer service positions in state and local government, where clerical positions are projected to decline by 18–25%.

MissionSquare Research Institute (formerly the Center for State and Local Government Excellence at ICMA-RC) promotes excellence in state and local government and other public service organizations so they can attract and retain talented employees. The organization identifies leading practices and conducts research on retirement plans, health and wellness benefits, workforce demographics and skill set needs, labor force development, and topics facing the not-for-profit industry and the education sector. MissionSquare Research Institute brings leaders together with respected researchers. For more information and to access research and publications, visit and follow on Twitter and LinkedIn.



MissionSquare Research Institute | Kelly Kenneally | 202.256.1445 | [email protected].