Coronavirus Pandemic Has College-Bound Students, Parents Rethinking Higher Education Decisions

Colleges and universities across the country made swift moves to protect the health of their campus communities as President Donald Trump declared the novel coronavirus a national emergency. Students, faculty, staff and administration at colleges and universities have been forced to rethink the process of educating students by moving all instruction and non-essential daily operations online. 

“Many reports from the field suggest that most institutions are prioritizing training faculty to offer 100% online instruction and advising while ensuring the student experience does not get too disrupted," says Stephanie Krusemark, director of university relations at Mentor Collective.

"However, a few campuses are opting to think ahead and consider canceling spring graduation ceremonies, which is not sitting well with their future graduates,"

Uncertainty For Students 

For example, Lycoming College, a private liberal arts college in Williamsport, Pennsylvania, has suspended face-to-face instruction after an extended spring break and will teach using remote formats for the remainder of the semester.

Students at Lycoming can expect to be contacted by their individual course faculty members on or before March 23 for individual course instruction.

“My son is on semesters and was home for spring break when he learned that he wasn't going back. My daughter is on quarters and was supposed to have finals this week, so initially, the university's goal was to complete the quarter with minimal disruptions. That got thrown out the window,” says Ann Garcia, parent of two college students and a financial advisor for Independent Progressive Advisors. 

Pandemic Affects College Decisions, Survey Shows

Families’ fears have heightened due to the COVID-19 outbreak — particularly for prospective parents and students who will be first-year students in the fall of 2020. Families across the country are rethinking their final college decision.

Quatromoney and TuitionFit have teamed up to create a national flash survey to understand how the COVID-19 outbreak could affect college enrollment patterns for high school seniors.

The survey results showed that 25.7% of respondents are rethinking their college choice due to the coronavirus outbreak. Thirty percent of parents are slightly more inclined to rethink their high school senior's college choice.

Students were only 23.6% more likely to change their college decision, and 12.6% of families are considering deferring their acceptance for a year so they can attend their first choice, according to the survey.

National Candidate Reply Date — the day that high school seniors must inform colleges of their intention to enroll or not enroll in a college — is May 1. Many schools have pushed decision day to June 1. 

Despite the unprecedented nature of the coronavirus pandemic, the “normal” pre-COVID-19 fears haven’t diminished, says Gwen Thomas, speaker and author of "The Parent’s Smart Guide to Sending Your Kids to College Without Going Broke.”

“The greatest fear that most parents have about the college search process is the cost. The cost of college is far out of reach for the average students and their families.” 

College Cost Fears 

Thomas says the concerns about college that predated the pandemic, like whether a student will find a job or be in debt, are still the same. puts cumulative U.S. student loan debt at $1.4 trillion.

Student loan debt accrues at a rate of $2,858 every second, and the average student debt as of 2017 was $37,172.

Thomas says there’s a new layer now.

“Parents with money in 529 college savings plans are also a little fearful because they have to sell short,” she says.

Many high school seniors have not started to think about the economic impact of layoffs, shortages and lost income from work due to COVID-19, the author says. 

Experts say that families can still take the following steps to address college cost concerns: 

  • Contact the financial aid office at colleges, particularly if families are faced with a disappointing financial aid award.
  • Tap into a financial advisor’s advice if parents are now concerned about retirement funds, a dip in college savings accounts and paying for college. 
  • Ask a trusted tax professional to help understand how to save additional money.

Possible Changes In Retention

Fred Amrein, founding principal of Amrein Financial and College Affordability LLC, says that college retention rates are already low. “Less than 40% of students graduate on time,” he says. 

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