COLLEGE, INTERRUPTED: THE CASE FOR GOING (BACK) TO SCHOOL By Anna Helhoski A cautionary note for the high school class of 2022: Waiting to enroll in college decreases the likelihood you’ll ever attend or complete a degree. It’s a valid concern. Due to the pandemic, undergraduate enrollment was down 2.5% in fall 2020 and down 4.5% for spring 2021, compared with the previous fall and spring, respectively, according to the National Student Clearinghouse Research Center. There are also warning signs of an enrollment slump to come. The class of 2021 is lagging in completing the Free Application for Federal Student Aid, or FAFSA. The application is the gatekeeper for college financial aid and, as of April 2, 2021, completion is down 7% compared with applications completed by the same time last year. FAFSA completions are an indicator of enrollment for the upcoming academic year, says Bill DeBaun, director of data and evaluation at the National College Attainment Network. “When you’re talking about the senior class that measures millions of students, you’re talking about many students with their postsecondary trajectory potentially altered,” DeBaun says.
Skipping out on college, delaying enrollment or not finishing a degree has consequences:
• You’ll earn less if you don’t go. • If you don’t go soon, you’re less likely to go back. • If you start a degree but don’t finish, you’re more likely to default on any student loans you took out. A gap year made sense for many high school graduates in 2020 and is appealing for 2022 grads, too, experts say. The pandemic resulted in an uneven college experience that may have included hybrid and virtual learning, regular COVID-19 testing and quarantines. And not every student was well-positioned – or had the broadband access – to learn virtually. “We’ll probably be having this conversation 10 and 20 years from now, as to how this affected the next generation,” says Nicole Smith, research professor and chief economist at the Georgetown University Center on Education and the Workforce.
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