Surveys Show Increasing Number From HBCU Potential Student Pool Rethinking Attending College This Fall

A number of surveys of graduating high school seniors and returning college students indicate that college attendance in the fall has become a secondary thought to preserving health, managing costs and caring for families.

Education Dive wrote last week about the findings from the Art & Science Group, which outlines findings from the two groups.

The survey is based on responses from 573 high school seniors who, prior to March 1, were planning to attend a residential four-year college in the fall. The firm also polled 513 college freshmen, sophomores and juniors who were enrolled at four-year residential institutions prior to March.

Of the high school seniors who had already decided the college they would attend in the fall, 14% said it was likely they would change their mind as a result of the pandemic. 

Students who had not yet picked a college were more likely to say the coronavirus situation will factor into their choice. One-third said the outbreak is influencing their decision and nearly one-fifth said their top choice school had changed as a result. 

Forbes also wrote this week about another survey from higher education research agency Simpson & Scarborough, which focused exclusively on high school seniors.

More than half the respondents, 53%, said their families’ finances had been affected by the pandemic. Simpson Scarborough also surveyed 513 current college freshmen, sophomores and juniors. Among that group, 41% said their families’ finances had been impacted by the virus.

Almost all of the college students surveyed, 97%, said their schools had switched to online learning. Most of those students rated their experience of virtual classes as poor. When asked how online instruction compared to live classes, 50% said it was “worse” and 13% said “a lot worse.” Only 5% said it was “better.”

When the high school students were asked how likely it was that they will go to college in the fall as they had planned, a fifth of respondents said it was likely or highly likely that they would not attend because of the pandemic. An additional 11% said it was too soon to say.

A report from CirkledIn makes it plain:

KEY FINDINGS

  • 22% OF STUDENTS ARE RETHINKING THEIR PLANS FOR COLLEGE.

  • 69% OF STUDENTS FORESEE COVID-19 IMPACTING THEIR HIGHER EDUCATION FINANCIAL SITUATION

  • MORE THAN 25% OF STUDENTS THINK COVID-19 WILL IMPACT THEIR COLLEGE LOCATION DECISION

None of the reports focused exclusively on students enrolled at or considering historically black institutions, and they did not classify respondents by race or geography. But the results are an early siren of the damage that the coronavirus may create for enrollment and revenue for this fall.

On the heels of many schools closing for the remainder of the semester, canceling or postponing commencement exercises, and looking for ways to refund student costs and to deal with resulting financial shortfalls as a result, many HBCU leaders began to ask themselves and their teams; what happens this fall? If all goes well and there is a national, uninhibited return to business prior to August or September, are HBCUs charged with easing the fears of life after a pandemic?

Along with assessing how effective schools and programs are at helping students to graduate and earn work, will HBCUs also have to allay fears about attending school with thousands of other students when there likely will not be a vaccine for the coronavirus? Will they have to explain to out-of-state students how to travel safely?

Will schools be able to recruit out-of-state beyond alumni engagement of students in their areas?

Do these questions change how presidents should budget for admissions and recruitment, even in their home states? And if that changes, what is the new normal for degree programs that traditionally attract a large number of students from international or out-of-state locations?

The goal remains one of attracting students, enrolling them, and preparing a campus to educate them through traditional or adapted means beginning this fall. A lot of obstacles will try and stop that effort, none of them the fault of HBCU leaders or supporters.

But if we’ve learned anything from the Trump Administration’s handling of the national coronavirus response, it is that there won’t be any excuses for irreparable damage to institutions done over the course of this summer. Schools that will be forced to close over the next year will have the footnote of “due to economic impact of coronavirus outbreak,” but they’ll still be closed. Employees and communities will still be harmed, and black students will have one less outlet which they can use to build their lives.

But HBCUs can’t go down in silence or with a lack of a publicized plan on how they’re going to individually or collectively fight like hell to fend off their own demise.