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A new report offers guidance for universities on communicating to students the value of a college education post-pandemic.

“Gen P” students remain unsure about college

A new report offers guidance for universities on communicating to students the value of a college education post-pandemic

Key points:

  • The pandemic has impacted college-going students’ views on higher education
  • Cost and mental health concerns are other factors influencing students’ decisions
  • See related article: A smarter way to think about college

A growing number of high school students point to concerns over affordability as well as academic and mental health preparedness as primary reasons behind their decision not to enroll in college, according to a new report from education company EAB.

The report summarizes the results of a new survey of more than 20,000 “Gen P” high school students–those whose college-going behaviors have been influenced by the pandemic.

“It’s no secret that the pandemic has taken a toll on student mental health and academic preparedness,” said EAB President, Enroll360, Hope Krutz. “This new data shows us that it is having a profound impact on whether high school graduates decide to attend college at all.”

According to the National Student Clearinghouse, total undergraduate enrollment is down by more than 1 million students compared to pre-pandemic levels. The recent slide exacerbates a national trend of declining college enrollment over the past decade.

EAB’s new survey shows that 20 percent of students who indicate they will not enroll in college right after high school say their primary reason is that they believe college is not worth the cost, compared to just 8 percent who expressed this view in EAB’s 2019 survey.

More than one in five (22 percent) have decided to opt out because they are not mentally ready, a sharp increase from pre-pandemic levels (14 percent in 2019). This view is particularly prevalent among first-generation and lower-income students. “I’m not mentally ready for college” was a concern expressed by 28 percent of first-generation students versus 20 percent of non-first-generation students.

Twenty-six percent of students surveyed by EAB selected “whether I’ll be successful in college” as a top concern, behind only concerns related to affordability and value. EAB notes that diminished access to in-person instruction during the pandemic created gaps in academic achievement and decreased opportunities for social development through classroom interactions with peers and teachers. The resulting impacts on mental health, socio-emotional development, and academic preparation may have made students feel less confident that they will succeed in college or find a sense of belonging on campus, creating increased retention risks.

“So many negative effects of the pandemic make it harder for today’s students to see college as a viable option,” Krutz continued. “EAB’s new report includes advice for university leaders on adapting and engaging ‘Gen P’ students in new ways to ease concerns and demonstrate the value of a college education.”

Within the report, EAB offers recommendations for universities, which are centered on the following themes:

  • Ensure that messaging addresses families’ worries about academic and mental health support available to students.
  • Highlight career services and opportunities for internships and job placement.
  • Build strong relationships with community-based organizations, which can serve as a vital connection point between colleges and underserved students.

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