Higher Ed in the News: Survey Data Reveals Major Concerns of College Presidents and Students as Coronavirus Fallout Continues

Photo by Max Böttinger on Unsplash.

This week’s Higher Ed in the News looks at the results from a few different survey to understand what administrators and students are thinking about these days. You can read previous editions of this series here and here.

In an article for Inside Higher Ed, Doug Lederman reviews a series of surveys focused on the sentiments of college presidents during the coronavirus crisis. Topping their list was the “disproportionate impact of the pandemic on low-income and underrepresented students,” while issues surrounding student safety, enrollment, online instruction, on-campus employment, and financial stability were also top of mind.

According to Lederman, 87% of those surveyed are concerned that lower-income enrollees will endure significant strife and believe those students should be a primary focus of support efforts. To appropriately aid this at-risk population, school administrators suggest contacting students to help determine how the school can ease their burden, whether it be educational, financial, or mental-health-related. Some schools have discussed more extensive measures like tuition deferment, increasing financial aid relief, and instituting a “sliding tuition scale based on student income.”

Some additional short-term challenges highlighted by the survey include properly nurturing the mental health of students, preparing faculty for online instruction, and potentially making difficult staffing decisions. Long-term issues include the possibility of declining enrollment, plans for the fall, and finances. Exactly when schools will be back in session also remains a huge question mark. Only half of the surveyed administrators are planning to have dining halls and dorms open by the start of the fall semester.

Jeremy Bauer-Wolf examines another recent survey of university presidents, conducted by the American Council on Education (ACE), and discusses the results in an article for Education Dive. These administrators were presented with 14 coronavirus-related issues and then asked to prioritize them. Out of the 192 presidents who responded, 86% see summer and fall enrollment as “the most pressing concern related to coronavirus” while 64% are worried about “long-term financial viability.” Other prominent issues pertain to potential layoffs of campus employees, “sustaining the online learning environment,” and providing mental health support for students.

Bauer-Wolf also analyzed a survey of students that was a joint effort between the American Council on Education (ACE) and the American Association of Collegiate Registrars and Admissions Officers (AACRAO). Out of the 2,000+ current college enrollees surveyed, over 80% plan to return to college for the fall semester, with 90% of these students intending to do so at the same school. The remaining respondents aren’t so certain about their educational future, with roughly 10% undecided about returning in the fall and 2% planning to pause their degree progress. In terms of current coursework, only 67% of respondents expect to complete all spring classes with 5% at risk of not completing any.