Our Associate Director Sean Mulholland has a new study on the college enrollment effects of COVID-19. He spoke recently with Shannon Watkins of The James G. Martin Center for Academic Renewal about the new research paper, “COVID-19 Prevalence and Empty College Seats.”

Sean’s study measures the prevalence of the pandemic using confirmed cases and COVID-related deaths. He then compares the prevalence of COVID-19 in the vicinity of colleges against the probability that those schools will have empty seats coming into fall 2020.

More empty seats are created when students are changing their minds about where to attend college. Sean found that according to surveys conducted in April 2020 as many as 25 percent of high school students were reconsidering their university decision options due to the uncertainty that COVID-19 has created in the world.

He found that several factors came into play, including distance from home to school, economic uncertainty and concern over contracting the virus itself. What he sought to understand was how these factors, specifically the likelihood of infection, were influencing incoming freshmen’s decisions.

Using data from the National Association of College Admission Councilors he was able to demonstrate an early link between the prevalence of COVID-19 in the county where the college was located and the availability of open freshmen seats for the fall 2020 semester, possibly indicating that fear of contraction of the virus is a deciding factor in enrollment decision.

The impact of COVID-19 on higher education is still unfolding, and Sean’s research continues to tackle the ongoing problem. Watch the full video here, and keep an eye out for more information on his work.

Watch Sean’s interview with The James G. Martin Center for Academic Renewal