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COVID-19 Wreaks Havoc on High Schooler College Plans

Due to changes in education wrought by COVID-19, the number of 2020 high school graduates who went to college immediately this fall dropped by nearly 22 percent compared to 2019 graduates, almost eight times the pre-pandemic loss rate of 2.8 percent. The decrease occurred across the board, in all kinds of high schools. But the decline hit high-poverty schools the hardest, where college enrollment dropped by nearly twice as much as higher income schools.

The analysis was undertaken by the National Student Clearinghouse Research Center in its eighth annual "High School Benchmarks" report. This year's report included a special analysis of the impact of COVID-19 on college progression rates. The research examined preliminary data from high schools and colleges reporting as of Sept. 18, 2020 from the Clearinghouse's StudentTracker for High Schools service. The "immediate" enrollment rates were estimated for graduates from some 2,300 high schools with differing income, minority and setting characteristics.

COVID-19 Hits High Schooler College Plans Hard

Change in the number of students enrolling in college after school, brokenout by high school characteristics. Source: "High School Benchmarks" from the National Student Clearinghouse Research Center

The study found that the pandemic struck college enrollment rates considerably for graduates of high-poverty, low-income, high-minority and urban high schools, which saw declines of 32.6 percent, 29.2 percent, 26.4 percent and 25.1 percent, respectively.

For those high schoolers who may or may not have attended college, the immediate college enrollment rate fell to 27.7 percent in 2020 from 35.3 percent for 2019, a decline pegged as "10 times steeper" than last fall's drop (from 35.9 percent in 2018 to 35.3 percent in 2019). A disproportionate share of the impact was made by students from low-income high schools, where the decline was 29.2 percent, compared to 16.9 percent for their peers in higher-income high schools.

"Based on preliminary data, there is little evidence that COVID-19 impacted high school graduation," noted Doug Shapiro, executive director of the center, in a statement. "However, the pandemic impacted high school graduates in their immediate college enrollment, and those from high-poverty, low-income and urban high schools have been hit the hardest. The enrollment gaps appear to be widening because of COVID-19."

The full high school benchmark report is available on the NSC Research Center site.

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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