Dear Commons Community,
In the past month, The Chronicle of Higher Education conducted two surveys to gauge the impact of the coronavirus on collegebound high-school seniors’ fall plans. Their findings indicate that most students who want to attend a four-year college full time appear to be looking for a traditional college experience — living on campus, interacting with professors, studying and socializing with peers. The Chronicle’s research also indicates large majorities reject online degree programs as an alternative, and expect their preferred college to be open in the fall. Here is an excerpt courtesy of Richard Hesel.
“…the dreams of many students have been radically disrupted by Covid-19. Half of the students we surveyed reported a parent or guardian had lost a job, been laid off, or been furloughed as a result of the pandemic. And most expect to pay much less in tuition and fees if campuses do not reopen and they end up studying online. Put another way, if students’ see their dreams of college diminished or deferred, many will not be willing to pay the full costs associated with an on-campus experience.
Half of the students we surveyed reported a parent or guardian had lost a job, been laid off, or been furloughed as a result of the pandemic.
That leaves college leaders with some critical questions as they plan for the fall: How many students will actually show up if campuses are reopened? What will admitted applicants do if the college they have chosen is exclusively or primarily online? How much will they be willing to pay for virtual learning? How much additional financial aid will be necessary because of parents’ lost jobs or reduced salaries?
Our research cannot tell us precisely what colleges should do to strengthen their yields, but here are some broad takeaways.
Don’t make assumptions about the stickiness of deposits. A deposit is a less reliable gauge of student commitment this year than in years past. Among the considerable number of students who have already made a deposit, 12 percent reported that they no longer plan to attend any four-year college full time. And among students still intending to go full time, their concerns about their ability to attend their first-choice college appears to be intensifying (five out of six are concerned; one in four are very concerned). The cause cited most often is affordability, followed by the inability to do an overnight visit on campus.
As of April 24, 40 percent of students who still plan to attend a four-year college had not made a deposit. Even considering the shifting admissions deadlines, this is a striking gauge of students’ uncertainty. Many of them appear to be holding back because of uncertainties about their ability to pursue their original college dreams. Less than a week away from the deposit deadline for most institutions, more than four-fifths of nondepositors expressed doubts about their ability to attend their first-choice institution.
Students who have not yet made a deposit tend to have greater doubt about campuses being open in the fall. On average, they are more likely to have lower SAT/ACT scores, lower household incomes, are more likely to be first-generation-college students and students of color.
Understand the limits of the appeal of remote learning. Evidently, there has not been the groundswell of interest some had projected in abandoning a traditional college experience in favor of an online degree program. Nearly two-thirds of the students we surveyed have no interest in completing a degree online, and relatively few indicated that the current crisis had made them more interested in doing so. In fact, three-fifths of these students expect an on-campus experience to be available to them in the fall.
Prepare for mounting pressures on price and aid. While the value students place on a traditional college experience provides some insurance that they will not abandon their college dreams for an online alternative, it also has powerful cost implications.
Simply put, most students expect to pay much less if virtual learning is mandatory this fall. They want costs to be adjusted, and not just to account for the irrelevance of room and board. Two-thirds of respondents also expect to pay less in tuition and fees.
These expectations need to be understood in the context of the increased financial insecurity many households are facing. Not surprisingly, loss of income security is affecting some groups more than others, notably respondents who are from lower- and moderate-income households, who are first generation, and who are located in cities.
Changing financial circumstances will have a significant impact on the level of aid colleges will be called on to provide. So far, it appears that colleges have not offered additional financial relief. Only one in 10 respondents report that their financial aid was increased because of Covid-19.
Students have a high degree of trust in colleges. Of the sources of information we tested in our April survey, students trusted two the most as they made plans for the fall: public-health experts and organizations, and colleges. Students found the president of the United States least trustworthy, followed by the news media. (While we did not ask in April, students in March told us they looked largely to social media for news on the coronavirus.)
These findings should be a balm to colleges that are doing their best in extraordinary times to meet the needs of students and preserve the financial health of their institutions.
The insights offered by national studies can offer some broad direction to colleges struggling to contain the disruption caused by the pandemic. But it’s up to the leaders of each college to gain an understanding of its own specific pool of admitted applicants and determine how best to reassure students and persuade them to invest in their hopes and dreams.”
Good information for the higher education community!