COVID’s Impact on the Fall 2020 Semester

by Haleigh Cadd | September 18, 2020
COVID’s Impact on the Fall 2020 Semester

COVID's impact on the fall 2020 semester (so far)

Key takeaways

  • Colleges and universities are varied in terms of in-person versus virtual classes, but many are moving online at this time.
  • Towns with colleges and universities (at 10% population) are seeing higher numbers of COVID cases. Non-college town exposures are decreasing.
  • Enrollment at community colleges is down.
  • Graduate programs are becoming more popular.
  • First-generation students, students of color, and underserved students are disproportionately impacted and not enrolling.
  • Students say they are concerned with the amount of communication about plans/preparedness and communication once they’ve been exposed to COVID.
  • Predictions: More students will transition to a remote environment this fall and winter. Student equity will be a major concern. Graduate programs will continue to grow. Student communication will be vital to success for students and institutions.

What we've learned so far

We comb the news daily for how COVID is impacting schools to learn how we can best support today's students and the institutions that serve them. What we’ve learned, so far, is that this pandemic has not impacted colleges and universities in the same way across the board. However, it has impacted some of the student data trends in ways that schools have never seen in their history – not even during the recession. 

The spread of COVID cases and their impact on classes

According to a recent article published in The New York Times, college towns are the emerging hotspots for the virus. This makes sense, considering that students are coming from multiple locations to congregate in one area. It’s similar to taking cells from multiple organisms and squelching them together in a petri dish. 

In the US northeast, colleges have generally quelled their COVID spikes. In contrast, in the southern and southwest regions of the US, case counts have surged. Also, COVID cases spiked in California, Colorado, Washington, and Wisconsin when their students returned to campus. Therefore, due to the surge in COVID cases at many schools in the US, many of these colleges have walked back their decision to hold either in-person or hybrid courses. In other words, they are going fully online. 

COVID’s impact on student enrollment

From what we’ve discovered, COVID’s impact on enrollment this fall is a double-edged sword. Fortunately, enrollment this fall increased at nonprofit, 4-year universities, as well as at graduate programs. Unfortunately, enrollment decreased at community colleges and for-profit, four-year schools. 

Because enrollment numbers at community colleges and for-profit universities actually increased during the recession, these statistics are surprising. These falling numbers are a result of multiple factors impacting students' enrolling in schools. 

An indirect result of COVID’s impact on the Fall 2020 semester is unemployment. This is especially true for low-income students who are more likely to take on more family care responsibilities. This is disproportionately impacting students who are Latino, Black, and Asian-American. Thus, with greater home responsibilities and a more urgent need to be employed, these students are enrolling in fewer classes. Even worse, some are choosing not to enroll at all. 

What this tells us and what this means for the bigger picture

In short, this means that because of the surge in cases, there is a chance that the number of colleges that move their curricula online may increase. However, when schools revert online for their classes, they may be putting disadvantaged students at an even greater disadvantage. This is due to what the Pew Research Center has called the digital divide or what can also be called ‘the homework gap.’

These divisions in equity point out how some disadvantaged students don’t have reliable access to a computer or Wi-Fi. Thus, if more schools move online, disadvantaged students are prone to be negatively impacted. 

How texting can help close the gap

According to the Pew Research Center article linked above, 59% of parents in the U.S. say their student(s) may face digital obstacles during their COVID-induced, online fall.  

However, the Pew Research Center also states that 96% of adults between the ages 18-29 own a smartphone. In other words, while low-income students may not have reliable access to laptops, there is a highly likely chance that these students can receive text messages. 

The fact that students have access to texting means that this method of communication is one of the most reliable sources that your college can use to reach these students.

For instance, if your school offers financial aid that can help that student pay for a laptop, then any of your advisors can text students to tell them that this resource is available to them. Or, if your school extends its registration period or opens up more class times, you can relay this information via text.

In general, 98% of texts are opened and 90% of texts are responded to within three minutes. On the other hand, if you email these students they might not receive this information because there is a lower chance that they’ll read their email compared to reading a text message. 

Learn more

COVID’s impact on the Fall 2020 semester
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At Signal Vine, we understand and empathize with your school’s mission because it’s our mission, too. We want to help empower students with an education, no matter who they are or where they are in their journey. If you’re interested in learning how to pursue stable retention rates amidst COVID, download our Student Retention Guidebook 2.0 or request a demo below

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