High School Seniors Are Changing Their College Plans Because Of Covid

Monday, June 28, 2021

Covid-19 has turned everyone’s world upside down. Among those especially hard-hit are young adults transitioning from high school to college, according to surveys released last week by America’s Promise Alliance and Strada Education Network

The America’s Promise survey, given to 2,439 high school students of all grades nationally, revealed that 78% of 11th and 12th graders felt Covid affected their postsecondary plans at least a little bit, while nearly one in five students felt their plans changed a great deal. Of students whose plans changed, 34% of students reported planning to attend college closer to home, 24% reported planning to attend a two-year institution instead of a four-year institution and 7% reported no longer planning to attend college. Nearly half (47%) of students reported their plans changed for financial reasons, while 23% of respondents cited not feeling ready for college as the reason their plans changed.

The Strada survey, which included 626 respondents from the Class of 2020 and 586 respondents from the Class of 2021, revealed that 70% of students experienced disruptions in their plans for future education. Of this group, 35% of respondents decided to do a less expensive program, 31% opted to be closer to home and 6% decided to not enroll in college anymore. Among students who decided to not pursue education past high school, 39% of students cited too much stress, anxiety or uncertainty as their primary reason, while 26% cited financial pressure.

Both studies revealed a worrisome trend: students that were already marginalized were more likely to be impacted by Covid when it came to college plans. A 10% drop in the number of high school seniors that filled out a federal financial aid application seemingly confirms that disadvantaged students are turning to non-college alternatives in the face of pandemic-induced challenges.

“I think disproportionately students who are low income, from minority backgrounds, are first generation college students, those are the students that Covid has really disrupted their college plan,” said Katie Burns, college admissions counselor at IvyWise, a New York-based college consulting group. Burns explained that these students were often expected to take on more responsibilities amidst the pandemic than their more advantaged peers, such as needing to enter the workforce to support their family or care for relatives. Similarly, the hurdles for lower-income students that delay their education to eventually obtain a four-year degree are higher than for higher-income students that may choose to take a gap year.
It is clear that Covid greatly impacted the last two college application cycles, but whether trends such as many students opting to attend a university closer to home continue long-term or declining enrollment is difficult to predict.

“This data is certainly consistent with some other sources of information, but it's sort of difficult to speculate whether these have accelerated existing trends, or whether these have really opened up new dynamics in the landscape of higher education,” said Sean Flanagan, senior director of research with the Center for Promise at America’s Promise Alliance.

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Story by: Derek Saul