College acceptance season is normally a mixture of stress and excitement for many high school seniors and their families. This year, the normal anxiety of waiting to hear back from top choice schools has been replaced with greater uncertainty, and many of this year’s high school seniors have opted out of attending college in the fall thanks to the coronavirus.
A student poll conducted by Art and Science Group, LLC found only 20% of students feel confident they will still be able to attend their first-choice school, while 17% have changed their college plans based on coronavirus. Graduating seniors cite being too far away from home, remote learning, and costs as some of the reasons that may sway them.
Educationdata.org notes that approximately 22 million students were enrolled in undergraduate programs throughout the US in the 2018-19 academic year. That number is expected to shift, most likely decline, due to the uncertainty created by the coronavirus. Colleges and universities around the country are already preparing for reduced enrollment and subsequently, reduced revenue. Some institutions are predicting losses of up to $100 million dollars according to The New York Times.
Unexpected Financial Hardship
One of the greatest concerns among college-bound seniors is the financial commitment. With a record number of Americans applying for unemployment, many families’ financial situations have changed drastically in a matter of weeks. Those students receiving any financial aid have already completed their Free Education for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) paperwork and the information they provided could be very different than it was a few short months ago.
Students who may not have been low income when they applied, may now qualify as such.
FAFSA forms can be amended and changed when a student’s financial situation changes. Incoming freshman are advised to contact their prospective college or university’s financial aid office to make sure their current financial situation is being considered. Many institutions have extended their acceptance deadlines to allow for some of these last-minute changes, so students can understand the full financial picture before they commit.
More concerning than revising applications is the decreased rate of FAFSA applications. According to an Associated Press analysis, applications were down 70% as of mid-June, which represents a 3.7% decrease in the application process. For many students who may not have access to technology at home, the FAFSA process is largely guided by their school counselor. That process can begin as late as March, but this was when most US schools closed.
The decrease in FAFSA applications is concerning and could be a combination of several factors, including fears of COVID-19, poor college education experience, and the need to stay home and support one’s family.
Indeed, experts fear that this new set of circumstances will affect low-income students in a far greater capacity. Many low-income students may now need to stay home and help their families financially. Students who were just barely able to attend college even with financial aid, may now find themselves without the resources to bridge the gap.
As a result of these concerns, many schools have extended their financial aid deadline. Individual states like Kentucky and North Carolina have been launching campaigns to encourage graduating seniors to fill out their FAFSA forms.
Six billion dollars of the $2 trillion rescue bill signed by President Trump was designated for use in the form of emergency cash grants for students in financial distress. Experts fear it may not be enough. Higher education could now become a luxury that low-income kids simply can’t afford.
The specifics are still unknown, but COVID-19 has already changed the landscape of college admissions and enrollment. While the class of 2020 is left to make immediate decisions, the long-term effects could impact graduating seniors for years to come.