The Impact of the Pandemic on U.S. Colleges

Despite the type of colleges, all colleges have experienced numerous declines in student numbers. The standard four-year undergraduate program offered by the colleges and universities experienced a loss, but the community school hit the most considerable hardship. Their group of students consists of a diverse range of people from students with financial difficulty, mature students, and students with different ethnic backgrounds. Due to this nature, they experienced over 13% of enrollment diminished in the past two years.

What’s happening in U.S. universities?

Fewer people applying to attend universities in the U.S. are not limited to certain demographic or regions. According to the data released by the non-profit news organization Bridge Michigan, Michigan state received less than 17,500 high school graduates from their expected predictions into their state colleges.

Even with the increasing number of college applications, students that actually enrolled in colleges decreased. Source: The Economist

Pandemic was a decisive factor, but it was not the starting cause of the reduction. Oakland University experienced a fall in enrollment in 2019 with a decrease of 2,100 students. With active students of 12,500 students, the numbers are comparably lower when compared with the peak number in 2016. It is added on top of the decrease in the retention rate of students regardless of the demographic group. Dawn Aubry, a vice president for admission management, stated that students with minority backgrounds or other underrepresented backgrounds showed fewer retention rates notably.

There is also a rising issue of students choosing to not attend college even with their acceptance in the fall of 2021. Its significance is noticeable when looked at in numbers, with an over 48% increase of students choosing not to attend. Aubry explains, “It is important to reconcile with the students who are not currently studying with us even though they have accepted our offer. Our role is to assist students in understanding what the university can offer to them and its benefits.”

Effect of a university degree in the future

Despite the prospective students deciding to enter the career market as high school graduates, research conducted by Georgetown University opposed the advantage of commencing a job over an undergraduate degree. According to the data, the median wage of high school graduates earns 75% less than those with a bachelor’s degree during their lifetime career. Aside from the difference in pay, having a bachelor’s degree holds two significant advantages over a high school graduate. Firstly, they will likely have more career paths with higher satisfaction, and they are likely to be more flexible in the job market by finding a new job quicker even if they lose one.

The median wage of high school graduates earns 75% less compared to others that have a bachelor’s degree 

Sarah Sattelmever, project director of education, opportunity, and mobility at New America, a think tank at Washing D.C., agreed on the benefit of gaining an undergraduate degree over the entering job market after high school. “University degree will become more powerful if people are not deciding to take it. It might not be the best life decision to enter the university, but it is undoubtedly to say it will provide the most stable path for financial advantage. At a time like this, it could become an opportunity in the future.”

Money to pay for meals before the tuition fee

Numerous causes can explain universities suffering from a lack of enrollment in the U.S. The biggest reason is the high tuition fee. The high tuition fee was a long-time dilemma for U.S. schools. While it was initially considered an expense with a burden, the pandemic has driven people to be more financially cautious. It could be prospective students deciding to work with financial hardship, or the degree’s value has become less attractive when the course is taught online due to the Covid restrictions. Covid also impacted the recruiters from visiting the high school for active promotions from the corresponding school.

Relationship between the school and the economic market

Another factor in choosing a job over labor is the alluring job market. Employers are offering higher payments with the shortage of labor, especially in the hospitality and low-skilled career industry. Therefore, workers in this industry do not need to obtain a university degree. Sattelmevever proposed an opinion on the relationship between the economy and the school. “When we look at the economy at a certain time, it has an opposite influence on the school. People will decide to study more during the recession as it’s harder to find a job. People will decide to work rather than study if there is an economic boom.”

Although the relationship between the economy and the school was genuine in the past years, it was passive during the pandemic. Despite the contracted economy, students have decided not to study. According to Sattelmever, the pandemic has changed the environment of the study to online, and lack of access to fast internet and technology is prevalent. She continued, “Many schools have received financial support from their local and state governments. However, the problem is still underlined, and it is time to consider a long-term solution for the school’s sustainability.

Attempting to lure students back to campus

If there are no students in the school, it harms society long term. Michigan is experiencing a lack of graduates with skills obtained explicitly from college. A shared problem in the U.S. is that there is a demand but a shortage for many specialists in areas like I.T. experts and engineers for higher economic growth.
To help with this drought of graduates, schools attempt to gain students’ interest back in school. It is done through offering scholarships programs, consulting individual students who have decided to drop out, and organizing recruiting campaigns.
The admission team at Oakland University is tackling this issue by changing its method of approaching prospective students. They are running a campaign called Golden Grizzlies Graduates, where they provide better explanations to people to start a degree at the current time. They highlight the benefits of gaining an undergraduate degree and the financial grants with resources that the students can gain from the school.

Read More: U.S. Gap Year Statistics