University enrollment rates expected to fall due to COVID-19

Graphic by: Cassandra Tweed

How the virus is impacting universities across the country

The COVID-19 pandemic has brought about many problems for universities across the country as university enrollment rates have been falling. At present, North Dakota State University President, Dean Bresciani, has said that NDSU plans to reopen fully for fall semester classes, however, if the pandemic continues or worsens and North Dakota colleges and universities are not allowed to open, classes will continue to be run exclusively online.

Enrollment rates have dropped four years in a row at NDSU—from 14,432 students in 2016 to 13,173 students in 2019. Enrollment could drop again for the upcoming 2020-2021 academic year as some prospective students might amend their college and university plans, by shifting to part-time classes or taking a gap year instead.

A study of 1,171 high school seniors conducted by studentPOLL and published by the Art & Science Group concluded that around 16 percent of surveyed students plan to take a gap year while 59 percent of students said they had no interest in enrolling in an online degree program.

“67% of students would expect to pay much less in tuition and fees for online learning options if campus[es] could not be opened in the fall,” Art & Science Group said. “Only one-fifth would be willing to pay the same tuition and fees if campus was not able to be opened.”

The studentPOLL study also found that students’ concern over attending their first-choice college or university due to COVID-19 has risen in the last couple of months.

In March, 17 percent of surveyed students were “very concerned” about getting into their first-choice school. This figure rose to 26 percent by April. Factors that contribute to this concern include financial capabilities due to loss of work, family-related health concerns and dissatisfaction with how the school is handling COVID-19 with current or prospective students. 

Many universities across the nation are expecting more financial losses in the upcoming year as well. Current losses for universities are largely a result of refunds for housing and dining plans.

Higher-education institutions are also losing potential revenue from sporting events. For example, the NCAA’s March Madness tournament normally brings in hundreds of millions of dollars in revenue. The men’s and women’s basketball tournaments were canceled this year and many universities felt the impact of lost revenue.

In addition to the current struggles of refunding students’ housing and meal plans, further pandemic-related costs, lost revenue and decreased enrollment could have harmful financial effects on NDSU and other universities.

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