A year ago, many prospective 2020 high school graduates were finalizing their decisions on whether and where to attend college. The 2019-2020 application and acceptance process was much the same as it had been over the last twenty years. Most selective schools still required standardized tests. Many students had applied to their reach schools and safety schools. These soon-to-be high school graduates were scheduling admitted student day visits. But a new, novel little virus was about to derail their plans.
Many early articles The Chronicle of Higher Education and Inside Higher Ed began discussed how the COVID-19 pandemic was altering college enrollment (The Chronicle of Higher Education 2020; Hoover 2020; Jaschik 2020a). As the number of cases and deaths increased and institutions became increasingly concerned about how it might impact students’ choices and decisions, many colleges moved the traditional May 1st decision day later into June, July, and even August (Jaschik, S. 2020d; Redden, E. 2020b). Yet little concrete evidence was available.
One of the preliminary sources on college enrollment came from the National Association for College Admission Counseling’s (NACAC) online bulletin board (National Association for College Admission Counseling 2019, 2020). Each year the NACAC asks postsecondary member institutions about their availability of space, institutional financial aid, and housing as of May 1st. Completing the online bulletin board form allows colleges to publicly announce that they have space available for fall undergraduate enrollment. Each year, the NACAC posts this information online a few days after May 1st. Schools can, and often do, submit updates to the NACAC bulletin board on the availability of seats, financial aid, and housing until the entire bulletin board is removed at the end of July. Because this study focuses on first-year students, I only include four-year schools that report having openings, available student housing, and financial aid for first-year students.
Combining this preliminary enrollment information by institutions with the number of deaths and cases in the institution’s home county, I find that a one standard deviation increase in deaths is associated with a 65 percent increase in the probability a school reports open seats for first-year students, housing, and aid. For a one standard deviation increase in cases, the probability is just over 50 percent. A one standard deviation increase in the growth rate of COVID-19 deaths is associated with a 45 percent increase in the likelihood that a school reports openings. A one standard deviation increase in the growth rate of COVID-19 cases increases the probability of reporting openings by 56 percent.
Overall, these results suggest that students were a) alarmed by the potential health risks of attending a college in or near a COVID-19 hot spot; b) worried that colleges in or near a COVID-19 hot spot might not offer students the full, face-to-face intimate college experience; and c) concerned that schools may demand students to leave campus again, much like the spring of 2020.
Citation: Sean Eric Mulholland (2021) Covid-19 prevalence and empty college seats, Applied Economics, DOI: 10.1080/00036846.2020.1841884
The Chronicle of Higher Education. 2020. “The Coronavirus Enrollment Crash.” May 7th 2020. Viewed May 23rd 2020. https://www.chronicle.com/article/The-Coronavirus- Enrollment/248724
Hoover, E. 2020. “How Is Covid-19 Changing Prospective Students’ Plans? Here’s an Early Look.” The Chronicle of Higher Education. Accessed March 25th 2020. Viewed May 23rd 2020. https://www.chronicle.com/article/How-Is-Covid -19-Changing/248316
Jaschik, S., 2020a. “The Online Risk.” Insidehighered.com. Accessed 19 May 2020. Viewed May 23 2020. https:// www.insidehighered.com/admissions/article/2020/05/19/one-third-high-school-seniors-say-they-will-defer-or-cancel-rather
Jaschik, S. 2020b. “Colleges Could Lose 20% of Students.” insidehighered.com. Accessed April 29th 2020. Viewed May 8th 2020. https://www.insidehighered.com/admissions/article/2020/04/29/colleges-could-lose-20-percent-students-analysis-says
National Association for College Admission Counseling. 2019. National Association for College Admission Counseling’s annual College Openings Update (formerly the Space Availability Survey). https://www.nacacnet.org/news–publications/Research/CollegeOpenings/ (Viewed May 3, 8, 10, 12, 16, 17, 18, 20, 21, and 22, 2019)
National Association for College Admission Counseling 2020a. National Association for College Admission Counseling’s annual College Openings Update (formerly the Space Availability Survey). https://www.nacacnet.org/news–publications/Research/CollegeOpenings/ (Viewed May 5, 8, 10, 12, 15, 2020)
National Association for College Admission Counseling 2020b. NACAC’s College Admission Status (Update). https://www.nacacnet.org/news–publications/newsroom/college-admission-status-coronavirus/ Viewed April 22nd, 2020.