Higher education, students face tough decisions for fall semester

Higher education, students face tough decisions for fall semester

MONTGOMERY, Ala. (WSFA) - The coronavirus pandemic has left a big question mark over colleges and universities and how many students will return to campus, or if campuses will re-open for the fall semester.

Colleges and universities need money from students’ tuition and fees, but they also need to make sure everyone is safe when they return.

“The number one thing that’s impacting every decision-maker is health and how do we make sure that everything we do puts that as priority number one,” said Gordon Stone, Executive Director of Alabama’s Higher Education Partnership. “Number two, how do we make sure that the learning experience is maximized for our young people because that’s why they’re choosing to attend our institutions."

Stone says the third priority is to make sure employees have a vital role, not just on campuses, when it comes to instruction but also a role in our state.

Students everywhere are reconsidering their options in light of COVID-19. Eleven percent of students who were surveyed by Strada Education Network said they canceled their college plans because of the coronavirus outbreak, and 40-percent still haven’t submitted a deposit to any school signaling a commitment to attend in the fall.

Those numbers play a huge role in how colleges and universities plan and pay for the next semester.

“The trends nationally that we’ve seen that have impacted us over the last decade have been a reduced amount of revenue that comes from public sources. In Alabama, we’ve seen our operations and maintenance funds which is basically what runs the institution, those funds which were predominantly state-funded for public universities, shift a lot to tuition and fees,” Stone explained. “When you seen that shift, then you have a concern that enrollment could go down, you have to understand that doesn’t change the marketplace, we’re still graduating young people from high school. Universities still want to meet that demand.”

According to another survey by higher ed consulting firm Simpson Scarborough, as many as 20-percent of students who had been planning to start college in the fall may not actually attend. The main reason, diminished family finances.

“All of our institutions have been willing to work with the families and with prospective students to try to try to make this decision as easy as possible, and recognizing that there’s a lot of unknown, even day by day at this point,” said Stone. “So, first and foremost, knowing there’s a willingness to work with you at every campus. number two, stay in touch with the people that have been your contacts. All of them are still working and they’re still available, so try to make sure you talk through your circumstances with your recruiter or your admissions counselor."

Stone says they encourage students to talk to your institution and find out what you need to do.

“They will work with you,” Stone added.

Most schools would have required students to accept their admissions offers by May 1. This pandemic has forced many colleges to push that deadline back to June 1, giving families a little more time to figure out their finances and make this decision.

“We encourage people don’t give up on your dream, don’t back away from your pursuit. If you feel like this fall I’m uncertain about what to do, explore what that institution has ways to stay enrolled, to continue to be a part of that institutional environment."

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