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COVID-19 Survey Finds 80% of College Students Shifting Gears

A survey among college-bound students in California has found that four in five have had to change their college plans due to the COVID-19 pandemic. The survey, conducted in May, wanted to understand what students' experiences were during spring 2020 and what their college attendance plans were for summer and fall 2020.

The survey was e-mailed to a sampling of students who had submitted financial aid applications to the California Student Aid Commission (CSAC), which administers financial aid for students in the state. Roughly 16,000 high school seniors and 61,000 enrolled college students completed it.

The project was initiated by CSAC along with the California Education Lab at the University of California, Davis, and funded by the College Futures Foundation.

Impacts of the virus were immediate. The survey found that seven in 10 students (71 percent) had lost some or all of their income due to COVID-19. Nearly half (46 percent) had their living arrangements change. And a quarter (24 percent) dropped courses during the spring college term.

Students were asked what school they expected to attend before the pandemic and after

Students were asked what school they expected to attend before the pandemic and after. Source: "COVID-19 Student Survey" from the California Student Aid Commission.

More than half of students expressed big jumps in their levels of anxiety about personal health and well-being, tackling a full load of courses, caring for family members, paying for housing and food and covering tuition and fees. And 82 percent said they were worried about taking online classes; 73 percent said they were anxious about their own financial situations; and 71 percent had similar fears about their families' financial situation.

As one student told surveyors, "I am concerned about being unable to pay rent or other educational expenses. This has added a lot of stress that is distracting me from my academic goals."

Another mentioned her challenges as a mother. "I was able to go on campus to do my learning, free from distraction of my children. Now I am trying to find the time to do my classes solely online on top of taking care of children that were also enrolled in school and now home schooling."

And a third student observed that while the getting a degree was important, "bills are not going to wait for me ... I have to pay them."

While 43 percent of students were aware of college programs providing emergency aid for living expenses, 39 percent of those aware applied. A little over half (54 percent) of those who applied received financial assistance — overall, about nine in every 100 students. Also, among the 12 percent of students who applied for access to a free or "loaner" laptop, three-quarters of those applicants received one.

Looking forward, most students "are committed to staying enrolled in college." Just 2 percent said they don't plan to attend in the fall. However, a third (34 percent) said they'll need to work more; and one in five (21 percent) said they need to head to a less expensive school. A quarter plan to "stay closer to family." However, 22 percent told researchers that they don't want to take online classes, and 15 percent said they "need a break from college" during this time.

Among high school seniors specifically, 9 percent reported that they'll delay their college enrollment; and a third said they were concerned about attending college far from home. While pre-pandemic, a quarter had plans to attend community college, that share rose to 32 percent after COVID-19.

Said one, "I will not be able to move out and be free from distractions at home, now I will have to stay at home, take care of siblings, and do all the household chores, while still taking online classes. I'm thinking that I will have to take less units, because of all the household responsibilities that are going to fall on me because I'm the oldest child."

Said another, "I'm debating to skip school for a couple of years, at least until my parents get back on their feet. I really want to get a degree in music, however, my family is priority."

"COVID-19 Student Survey" is openly available, along with survey results and a technical appendix on the CSAC website.

About the Author

Dian Schaffhauser is a former senior contributing editor for 1105 Media's education publications THE Journal, Campus Technology and Spaces4Learning.

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