Experts identified many barriers to college enrollment that the classes of 2020 and 2021 have been facing, but the three that are perceived to be most disruptive are the pressures of current family finances, additional structural barriers on the college prep path, and the increased emotional stress students are feeling.
Potential solutions identified included providing increased financial and emotional support, improving communication with students and families, and ensuring that education options are flexible enough to meet students’ needs.
Hearing from the students themselves will be critical to understanding their needs and how best to help them get back on a college and career pathway.
From its onset in early 2020, the Coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic has upended life across the world, leading to uncertainty around health, work, finances, education, and a host of other issues. For some, the pandemic has led to adaptations or delays in their life plans. For others, COVID-19 has fundamentally altered their life trajectories. Of vital interest to Strada Education Network and stakeholders across the country is the sharp decline in postsecondary education enrollment from students at high poverty high schools.
In order to inform solutions for how to reconnect with young adults whose education plans have been disrupted, Strada Education Network is conducting a multiphase research study with high school graduates from 2020 and 2021. The research will be centered on the learner perspective and will include a large-sample online quantitative survey, as well as in-depth, personal interviews capturing in video the personal stories that bring to life the challenges these students are facing.
To help prepare and guide the research, Strada convened leaders from across the nation to share their perspectives and experience with this issue. We are grateful for their enthusiastic and insightful participation.
The input from these national experts will inform the questions that will be asked of the learners themselves in the subsequent phases of the study. In addition, the expert feedback will be used to guide the structure of the research to help ensure that the recommendations that emerge are actionable for institutions and leaders across the country.
The key objective of the research is to identify and understand the relative influence of the key drivers behind reduced enrollment. Our national experts brainstormed to develop a list — based on their experience and observations — of the key barriers and challenges students are facing and then collectively prioritized what they see as the relative influence of those barriers and challenges.
The large number of barriers and challenges identified is striking — there are many factors converging to make enrollment more difficult. In the eyes of these experts, however, there are three issues that clearly rise to the top: the pressures of current family finances, additional structural barriers on the college prep path, and the increased emotional stress students are feeling.
Based on what you are seeing, what you have learned, and your experience in higher education, what do you see and believe are the underlying drivers causing this to happen?
Many of the perceived barriers fell into three main categories: family financial pressures and needs, emotional stress, and a general disconnect from the college pathway. We asked our experts to identify some potential solutions that might address each of these challenges.
Based on your experience, what do you think are some of the actions or steps that might be taken to address these challenges or barriers?
These identified drivers and potential solutions will help to frame the learner-centered research. In May, we will field a quantitative survey of approximately 2,000 young adults from the high school classes of 2020 and 2021. Through this survey, we will compare the perceptions from our national experts with those of graduating high school seniors to help identify potential underappreciated drivers that need additional focus as well as the potential solutions that students identify as most helpful. This survey will be followed by an online focus group and in-depth interviews with students in order to bring to light some of the stories behind the quantitative findings.
John Barnshaw – Vice President for Research and Data Science, Ad Astra and research affiliate, College Crisis Initiative
Michael Baston – President, Rockland Community College
Beth Bean – Policy Director, Office of Governor Jared Polis at State of Colorado
Shawn Bohen – Social Impact Strategist; formerly Chief Transformative Impact Officer, Year Up
Bridget Burns – Executive Director, University Innovation Alliance
Ben Castleman – Associate Professor in the Economics of Education, University of Virginia; Director, Nudge4 Solutions Lab
Mahnaz Charania – Co-Director of Social Capital Research, Clayton Christensen Institute
Matt Chingos – Vice President, Education Data and Policy, Urban Institute
Alex Cortez – Managing Partner, Education Portfolio, New Profit
Wil Del Pilar – Vice President for Higher Education Policy, EdTrust
Corley Dennison – Vice Chancellor for Academic Affairs, West Virginia Department of Education
Kai Drekmeier – Founder and Chief Development Officer, InsideTrack
Jason Engle – Dean for Organizational Learning, Columbia Basin College
Jill Frankfort – Co-Founder, President, Persistence Plus
David Hawkins – Chief Education and Policy Officer, National Association for College Admission Counseling
Pam Horne – Former Vice Provost for Enrollment Management, Purdue University
Nicole Hurd – Founder and Chief Executive Officer, College Advising Corps
Nancy Lewin – Senior Director, ACT Center for Equity in Learning
Matt Lopez – Associate Vice President of Enrollment, Arizona State University
Elizabeth Morgan – Director of External Relations, National College Attainment Network
Mary Parker – Vice President for Enrollment Management, Kent State University
Anne Stanton – President, Linked Learning Alliance
Becky Takeda-Tinker – Chief Educational Innovation Officer, Colorado State University System
Insights from National Experts
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