Interest in four-year college slumps after Covid as cost concerns rise

Amid the ongoing pandemic, many high school students are rethinking their future plans, and whether that will always include college.

A recent survey of high school students found that the odds of attending a four-year-old school have dropped by more than 20% in the past year and a half – to 48%, from 71%, according to ECMC Group , a non-profit organization aimed at helping students succeed.

High school students are placing more emphasis on vocational training and post-graduate employment, according to the report. The ECMC group has interviewed more than 1,000 high school students on four occasions since January 2020.

Almost half, or 46%, now say their ideal plans for post-high school would require three years of study or less.

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Even before the pandemic, students were starting to consider more affordable and direct alternatives to a four-year degree career, said Jeremy Wheaton, president and CEO of ECMC Group.

Still, most said they felt pressure, mainly from their parents and society, to complete a four-year degree, although community college or vocational and technical training may make more sense.

“The good news here is that there has been an increase in awareness of career and technical training as a path to a good career,” he said. “What is disturbing is the decline in education in general.”

The cost – along with student loan debt – “is the No. 1 concern,” said Wheaton.

This year, tuition, board and lodging costs for state public colleges reached $ 27,330; at four-year private colleges, it averaged $ 55,800, according to new data from the College Board, which follows college and student aid pricing trends.

Until 2020, the rising cost of a college education had continually exceeded both inflation and family income.

About 70% of high school and current students said concerns about college affordability were impacting their plans after high school and for college enrollment this fall, according to a separate survey by Citizens, which asked over 2,000 current and potential students and parents. .

Nationally, more students have withdrawn this year, leading to a further 3.2% drop in undergraduate enrollment compared to last year, according to a recent report from the National Student Clearinghouse Research Center, based on early college data.

Combined with last year, the number of undergraduate students in college is now down 6.5% from two years ago – the biggest two-year drop in enrollment in 50 years, according to the report.

Lawmakers had considered a proposal to make two-year college education free as part of the Build Back Better plan to increase enrollment. However, it was pulled from the $ 1.75 trillion framework after lengthy negotiations. Still included are funding increases for two-year schools and financial aid.

“I’m optimistic we’ll see a massive influx of resources here, but if you put the money into a process that doesn’t work, you’re just going to attract more students who don’t succeed,” Wheaton said.

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