How is COVID-19 Affecting Higher Education?

Friday, May 15, 2020

AdobeStock_322174411 Answers to Your Most Pressing Higher Education Questions in Light of COVID-19

The effects of the COVID-19 pandemic have impacted academic institutions in ways that go far beyond cancelled graduation ceremonies and virtual classes. Colleges around the country are experiencing a new set of changes as students and families continue to adapt to the unfolding circumstances.

For prospective college applicants, it’s essential to stay in-the-know and monitor how COVID-19 is impacting higher education institutions and upcoming admissions processes. Keep reading to learn answers to some of the top questions surrounding COVID-19’s effect on American colleges.

What are the current and potential future impacts of COVID-19 on colleges and universities?
The impacts are significant – nearly every college campus is closed and most classes have been moved online, causing a host of financial implications. Tuition has not been refunded, but there have been a lot of unexpected expenses for institutions. Looking ahead, this will definitely impact enrollment; every college is likely to be concerned with maintaining their yield rate, or the number of students who chose to enroll upon admittance. We’ve already seen where colleges have dipped into their waitlists much earlier than usual in order to fill their enrollment goals. There has also been a spike in interest in gap years, partially because many students find the prospect of online learning unappealing.

What are some of the financial implications for colleges?
It’s a challenging time for colleges: some are implementing hiring freezes and furloughs while others have paused capital building projects. Losses stem from a hard stop on major revenue streams including college sports and refunds for dining and housing expenses for current students. Colleges will be impacted in different ways: those with large endowments will still struggle significantly but have the resources needed to weather the storm, while smaller institutions may not be able to withstand this financial blow.

With restrictions on travel, a dip in international enrollment may also cause another huge financial hit for colleges. The US has been a top higher education destination for many years, but the current pandemic is likely to cause reservations. Often, international students who pay full tuition can help offset the cost of domestic students, so there is a chance that a lack of international tuition money will affect financial aid prospects.

What will the fall semester look like?
There’s still a lot of uncertainty about what the fall will look like; colleges are weighing dozens of scenarios and, while some schools like the California State University system have already made the decision to be entirely online this fall, there likely won’t be any final decisions until well into the summer. There are dozens of scenarios that colleges are considering, from a fully virtual fall to a hybrid of in-person and virtual instruction.

As Dr. Kat Cohen explained to New York Magazine: “One is a hybrid of virtual and in person. This seems to be the most popular scenario, where colleges have larger classes being virtual and smaller classes in person in large spaces where they can better socially distance. We heard of a college considering turning an on-campus ballroom into a large classroom where students can be better spread out. They’re also looking at adjusting the residential model. Dorms are pretty small, and they’re densely populated. We’ve heard of schools that are considering buying up local hotels or even casino spaces in order to give students single rooms so they can better spread out. There are scenarios floating around where schools just bring their freshmen to campus so they can have the “full experience” and then have the upperclassmen live off campus. There’s also been the idea that schools will bring the incoming freshmen and the seniors and have the sophomores and juniors go virtual for the year.”

Even if campuses do open, they might not operate at full capacity.  The location of a campus is likely to have an impact as well, as schools located in more densely populated areas are more likely to plan on virtual learning versus institutions in more rural areas. It’s also likely that college sports may not function at their typical capacity. That can cause a huge financial blow for schools with renowned programs, who would normally profit off of ticket sales and TV rights.

Will the college admissions process itself change?
The admissions process is always evolving, but COVID-19 has certainly hastened the process. To start, a lot of schools are going test optional to help ease the burden of cancelled SAT and ACT dates. Some schools are still encouraging students to submit test scores if possible, so if you are able to test and do well it can only help your application.

Things like essays, recommendations, and demonstrated interest will carry more weight when evaluating applicants. Colleges will be reading “in context,” meaning they know the challenges students are facing right now so they’re not going to hold things like canceled activities and competitions or pass/fail grades against them. The Common App has also added a section that will allow students to further elaborate on how they’ve been affected by the pandemic, providing further context to applications.

The 2020-2021 college admissions cycle will certainly be unlike any other, but students can feel confident by doing their research and keeping tabs on ongoing developments. If you are looking for personalized guidance throughout your college search, our team of admissions experts are here to help. You can also download our free College Prep Guide for the 2020-21 admissions cycle.

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