How the pandemic is affecting college enrollment of new high school grads

by Jeremy

Dive Brief:

Dive Insight:

The researchers primarily examined enrollment data for spring 2020 high school graduates and persistence and retention data for spring 2019 graduates.

According to the analysis, at public two-year colleges, enrollment decreased the most among first-generation students, those from underrepresented groups, and lower-achieving students from high-poverty high schools.

Four-year schools, meanwhile, reported some of the most significant enrollment declines among White and Asian students, along with those whose parents attended college and high-achieving students from affluent high schools.

Four-year schools were more likely to retain first-year students who graduated from high school in spring 2019 than community colleges. But within the four-year sector, lower-cost schools kept students at higher rates than those with higher posted tuition and fees, compared to students who started the year before. The researchers note that emergency financial aid from federal relief packages and more flexible grading policies could have affected retention increases.

Additionally, public four-year colleges saw smaller drops in their in-state enrollment than their out-of-state numbers, while private nonprofits saw equal decreases.

Community colleges took the biggest enrollment hit of all institution types during the pandemic. But the data shows some variation. In counties with high daily coronavirus case rates or high unemployment, community colleges saw slightly more significant enrollment declines than other two-year schools.

Chart showing regression-adjusted change in enrollment rates between the high school classes of 2019 and 2020.
The College Board says its regression-adjusted rates aim to control pre-pandemic trends related to student demographics and college-going to show only the pandemic’s effect on enrollment.College Board’s “College Enrollment and Retention in the Era of Covid” report.

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