The Online Risk

Thirty-three percent of high school seniors say they would defer or cancel an admittance rather than attend an all-online college. Plus results from other surveys of students and parents.

May 19, 2020
 
iStock.com/Burak Sur

Thirty-three percent of high school seniors say they are likely to defer or cancel an admission offer that is conditional on attending an all-online college in the fall.

That is the finding of a Carnegie Dartlet survey of 2,800 high school seniors. The surveys was conducted in May, making it one of the most recent among many of high school seniors. A major theme of those surveys has been student reluctance to consider all-online models. And this survey provided plenty of evidence for that view.

Ninety-five percent said that they would honor commitments made to colleges that plan to reopen in the fall with social distancing measures in place. But the survey also indicated that the later an institution announces its policy, the more apprehension students will have about it.

The California State University system announced this month that most classes in the fall would be online. But many other colleges -- including such prominent institutions as the University of Texas at Austin -- are planning for in-person classes in the fall. Both approaches are being criticized by some -- Cal State for being too fearful of what might happen and the campuses that are opening for taking a big risk with student and employee health.

But the data from Carnegie Dartlet point to another type of risk: students not enrolling at colleges that are all online. And there are many campuses that could not afford to lose one-third of their entering class.

Two Surveys

Carnegie Dartlet first surveyed students in March and then again in May.

In the six weeks between surveys, the concerns of students about COVID-19 negatively impacting their education increased significantly. Around three in five respondents said they had “a lot” of concern or worse, while in March that number was around one in two. Additionally, the number of students who said they had little or no concern about COVID-19 dropped from 16 percent to 9 percent.

Despite this shift, students are holding strong to their planned college education. Intent to delay enrolling did not increase from March to May, and in some groups it actually dropped slightly. While students may be more careful in making their decisions because of the outbreak, they are not dropping their plans. Only 2 percent of students have plans to delay presently, and 42 percent will not delay under any circumstance (up from 34 percent in March).

Having a firm plan at the college has an impact, as does the nature of the plan. More than half of students who hadn't decided where to go by May 1 said their likelihood to commit to a college would drop if it went entirely online, and three out of four are less likely to commit to a college that doesn't have a solidified plan in place by the month classes begin.

And then there's money.

Nearly two-thirds of students said that a college making no additional resources available makes them less likely to attend. Adding additional student loan opportunities shifts many to a neutral standing.

The other options -- yearlong grants, increased scholarships or reduced tuition or fees -- were all rated as significantly increasing the likelihood of attending a college,

Female, Latinx or low-socioeconomic-status students were most motivated by these options.

The vast majority of high school seniors (95 percent) said a move to online coursework, even partially, requires at least some change to the cost of attendance.

Respondents reacted to scenarios of a college going online for part of the fall semester or going online for the entirety of fall. About a third said they expected a slight reduction in cost, a third would seek a significant reduction in cost and a quarter were satisfied with simply waiving campus fees associated with living on campus.

Interest in living on campus has returned to its pre-COVID score, with nearly 50 percent saying it’s the only college living experience they will consider. Every single demographic group had a significant rise in interest in living on campus. Students who have already committed to a college have a very high interest score, suggesting again that going to campus, even with some distancing or other measures in place, is critical to their college experience.

Other Surveys

Carnegie Dartlet's was not the only recent new survey about students dealing with the pandemic.

Kennedy & Company released a study that also examined student reluctance to enroll in an entirely online environment. But the Kennedy study looked at current students, not this fall's freshmen.

Kennedy based its results on a survey of 12 different institutions (with more than 15,000 student responses). It found a nearly 30 percent gap -- 92 percent to 63 percent -- in likeliness to re-enroll if fall instruction is on campus versus fully online.

How to assure that students will re-enroll?

The one action the survey results suggest would increase likelihood for students to return in the fall is to guarantee on-campus classes. The next most likely items include firm plans in place for managing a COVID-19 outbreak including social distancing (40 percent of responders) and increasing production quality of online courses (31 percent of responders.)

What About Parents?

The data science firm Civis Analytics released a survey of parents and the public financed by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.

It found that job security is a pressing issue -- especially for minority Americans. Thirty-five percent of employed Americans think it is likely that they will lose their job in the next three months. However, this number is 32 percent for employed white Americans, compared to 45 percent of employed black Americans and 40 percent of employed Latinx Americans.

More parents (almost 50 percent) are reporting a change in their child’s post-high school plan. Less than half (43 percent) plan to go to a four-year college, down about 7 percent from April 23.

And LendingTree surveyed more than 1,000 parents with children under 18 to understand how the COVID-19 pandemic is affecting them. It found that 36 percent percent of parents tapped their child’s college fund to help cover expenses due to the financial strain caused by the COVID-19 outbreak.

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