Since COVID-19 hit, students have taken notice and altered their college plans. Some high school seniors are delaying enrollment until the pandemic has subsided, leaving universities with more openings.
This year, according to data collected by Sean Mulholland, an economics professor at Western Carolina University, from the National Association for College Admission Counseling (NACAC), 10 schools in North Carolina had openings for freshmen seats, housing, or financial aid in 2020 when they had none in 2019. Twenty-two other North Carolina schools reported openings in at least one additional category this year.
In a recent study, Mulholland found that the increase in reported openings is related to COVID-19. More COVID-19 cases, deaths, or growth rates all result in a higher chance that a school reports openings in all categories. The prospect of online classes, the risk of catching coronavirus, and the economic hit that families have taken are all contributing to fewer students signing up for fall semester.
FAFSA completion rates are also on the decline. Nationwide, applications for financial aid dropped by 1.8 percent for 2020 high school seniors. This drop is especially pronounced in North Carolina, which saw a 3.9 percent decrease compared to last year.
It’s clear that students and parents are adjusting their plans to avoid the risks and disruptions associated with COVID-19. Schools, especially those in areas with high counts of COVID-19 deaths and cases, need to alleviate student concerns over the virus if they want to keep enrollment numbers up.
Nicole Divers is a Martin Center intern and a senior at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.