Eduvation Blog

Enrolment Anxieties: Too Few? Too Many?

Good morning!

This afternoon I’m looking forward to a lively back-to-campus discussion with a roundtable of college and polytechnic communicators, so for their sakes, this issue will focus on enrolment matters. (Shameless plug: there are still some openings in the roundtables for the fall, so check out the details here.)

You probably heard that the US hit 205,471 COVID19 deaths on Tuesday – which would be shocking enough, but new projections from uWashington estimate there could be 378,321 deaths by year-end. Democratic House speaker Nancy Pelosi held a moment of silence on the floor to commemorate the dead. Meanwhile, President Trump defended his outdoor rallies as a “very safe environment” that attract 30-40,000 of his “very smart” supporters, and says he has not heard any criticism. (Someone get that man a hearing aid…)


CdnPSE campuses didn’t report any new cases yesterday, but there were 2 notable new outbreaks at institutions on either side of the Atlantic…

Glasgow U (Scotland) has identified 124 cases of COVID19 on campus in the 12 days since “Freshers’ Week.” As of yesterday, 600 students were in self-isolation and the university was bracing for more cases.  The Guardian

“Disciplinary action against any students who break the rules will include termination of student accommodation contracts and suspension from the university.” Glasgow University statement


Merrimack College (north of Boston MA) has 266 students in quarantine after 16 in a single residence hall tested positive on Tuesday. The dorm has been emptied for deep cleaning, and the students relocated to quarantine facilities (mostly off-campus). Test results for >150 other students living in residence are still pending.  Boston Globe


Enrolment Anxieties

Especially at US community colleges, there is considerable worry about enrolments this Fall, and while many universities have achieved their enrolment targets, there remains concern about student drop-outs…

US Community Colleges Worried

An August survey of senior admissions officials at 433 US colleges found that 60% were “very concerned” about meeting their new student enrolment targets for the fall term, and in fact had not filled the class by Jul 1. (The concern has been steadily rising across 8 years of surveying.) The situation seemed bleakest at community colleges (69% very concerned and 64% did not fill the class), and best at public doctoral universities (48% very concerned, 39% did not fill the class). In fact, 39% of community college respondents anticipated a decline of >10% in undergrad enrolment, while 15-25% of the universities expected to see higher enrolment than last fall. Notably, 12% of respondents said they did not agree with the decision their college made about fall instruction.  Inside Higher Ed

Wrestling with Your Conscience

An anonymous university communications director writes to the New York Times for advice: “Can I promote a reopening plan I question? Is it unethical to continue in my job?” His university intends to bring 40,000+ people together on campus, from all across the country, “the opposite of good public-health policy during a pandemic.” The advice columnist, a philosophy prof, insists “you must not misrepresent the situation,” and if you have been asked to, “there should be whistle-blower channels you can turn to.” (The answer is not nearly so interesting as the question.)  New York Times

Some Winners, Some Losers in UK

British universities appear headed for a “bumper year” of new admissions, according to preliminary numbers – increasing 3.5% to 508,090 confirmed applicants. International students increased 1.7%, but moreover a total debacle with the A-Level entrance exams ended up qualifying 5% more incoming first-years. (I’ll leave it to Alex Usher, who explains it with his usual wry wit.) But the bumper crop isn’t distributed evenly: top-tier universities saw enrolment rise 11%, mid-tier just 1%, and lower-tier institutions saw their applicant pools drop by as much as 50% (although most managed to maintain level enrolments). The top-tier institutions now have to wrestle with accommodating 11% more students, while also implementing social distancing requirements. There remains considerable uncertainty about just how many international students will actually show up, and many expect higher than normal drop-out rates. With January starts to consider, the financial picture won’t be clear until March.  Ozy

“Taking into account January starts, postgraduates and students changing their minds, we may not have a full picture until March next year.”Vanessa Wilson, CEO, UK University Alliance


Low-Income Drop-Outs Surge in the US

American colleges are concerned that low-income minority students, already the most likely to drop-out, may not even make it to campus this fall. Their families have been hit harder by COVID19 itself, and their employment has been disrupted by the recession. They are less likely to have access to wifi or a laptop – and some are afraid a school laptop will just be stolen from their homes. A Census Bureau survey in late August found that students with HHIs <$75k were almost twice as likely to say they “cancelled all plans” to attend college this fall. As of August, 100,000 fewer high school seniors had completed federal financial aid applications. Tuition deposits are down 8.4% among families earning <$60k. First-generation US students rarely pursue PSE after taking a year off, and only 13% of US college dropouts ever return, prompting concern that “this could be a lost generation of low-income students.” Washington Post

“The ultimate fear is this could be a lost generation of low-income students.”Bill DeBaun, Data Director, National College Attainment Network


“I’ve had students leave laptops in my office at night and pick them up in the morning, because they were afraid they would be stolen at home or used for drugs. Many don’t have space to study at home. They don’t have equipment.”John Sygielski, President, HACC Community College


UK Unis Expect Record Drop-Outs

With thousands of student jobs gone in the recession, UK university presidents are reporting “unprecedented pressure on their student hardship funds,” and worry that financial pressures may impact student persistence. Many experts (myself included) expect that students will have difficulty adapting to independent online study, especially after 6-7 months in lockdown – and the issue will be compounded for weaker students who slipped through on a technicality.  The Guardian

“We know they will struggle. I’m expecting that we may have a high dropout rate and that worries me. For an individual, the impact of dropping out can be far worse than not getting in in the first place.”Unnamed Vice-Chancellor of a Russell Group university, UK


“You’ve got students starting university this year who in the last seven months have lost the discipline of learning and time management. They knew they didn’t have A-level exams so they have been winding down.”Michelle Morgan, UK Student experience consultant


CdnPSE Enrolments

By comparison, the CdnPSE leaders who are talking to the media these days are generally sharing positive news about meeting or exceeding their enrolment targets this fall…

UBC reports that undergrad and grad enrolments are “either slightly higher or on par with previous years.” At UBC Vancouver, domestic undergrad enrolments are up 3.7%, while international is down 1.8%.  At UBC Okanagan, domestic undergrad enrolment is up 5.7%, and international is up 9.1%.  UBC

Canadian Mennonite U (in Winnipeg) reports it is off to “a really positive start” with 617 students attending classes, 152 of them living on-campus. Only 8% of students have opted to attend online only. Some of the F2F classes are being held outdoors while the weather permits.  Winnipeg Free Press

“I am struck by how badly students wanted to be back in classes. There is a real yearning for connection.”Terry Schellenberg, VP External, Canadian Mennonite U


Providence UC (Otterburne MB) reports 20% of undergrads have opted for online classes only, but the rest are attending classes, and 115 are living in residence.  Winnipeg Free Press

St Clair College reports a 5% increase in students enrolled this fall over last, although numbers won’t be official until next month. (A welcome relief after the spring term saw a 75% drop, from 1,200 to just 300.) The biggest gains were at St Clair’s Toronto campus, which grew enrolment from 1,500 last fall to 2,600 this fall (+73%). International student numbers held steady, even though many are attending online from outside Canada. The college is projecting an $18M surplus this year.  Windsor Star

Steinbach Bible College (MB) reports that enrolment is up considerably, with 110 taking hybrid courses – largely because of a record-high number of returning students.  Winnipeg Free Press

“Considering the doom and gloom forecast for schools back in April and May, we feel very fortunate. Many came back because they didn’t like the way the year ended last year, with the sudden closing. They want to finish well what they started.”Rob Reimer, President, Steinbach Bible College


CdnPSE Updates

uWaterloo will open a COVID19 testing centre in its health services building next month, joining Queen’s and Western who have announced similar services on campus. Yesterday, a drive-thru testing centre at the Grand River Hospital had to be closed as soon as it opened, because there were hundreds waiting to be tested.  CBC

Western U president Alan Shepard told his board that the University could reopen recreation, athletics and other services on campus in as little as 2 weeks, if case numbers drop. “My guess is we’re going to be there somewhere between two weeks and a month.” (So far, Western has reported 49 cases among its students.)  London Free Press

Yukon U says it is seeing significantly more interest in its practical nursing program, according to the program chair, “because of COVID19.” (There has been much speculation as to whether the pandemic will attract students to front-line careers, or scare them away. Considering that Yukon’s entire class is just 14 students, the “n” size is a bit small to consider the case closed at all.)  CBC



2 more CdnPSE institutions announced their plans for the Winter 2021 term…

Georgian College announced yesterday that it will continue with “a combination of fully remote and hybrid (remote/in-person) program delivery for the winter 2021 semester.”  Georgian

uOttawa announced in a memo on Monday afternoon that its Winter 2021 semester will consist “primarily of remote learning, with only a few exceptions.”  CBC


So as of now, I count announcements from 31 of the 98 CdnPSEs I am monitoring – so 32% to date. (You can see the details in my spreadsheet here.)

4 universities (Regina, Ryerson, Concordia and Brock) have worded their announcements in such a way as to emphasize an almost entirely online term. (I have shaded those red.) That’s 18% of the universities, but zero colleges.

At the other extreme, only 1 institution (Holland College) has indicated that it anticipates a fully F2F term (Dark green). Saint Mary’s U (Halifax) has indicated a mix of online and in-person classes, but emphasized that they plan to make on-campus opportunities available in all programs (so I’ve made that a lighter green).

The remaining 80% of CdnPSEs fall in the grey zone (well, what I have shaded light and dark orange), promising a mixed, blended, or hybrid approach. Not surprisingly, it’s 89% of the colleges, and 77% of the universities. The distinction really boils down to word choices: the darker orange (55% of universities and 67% of colleges) are emphasizing the very few exceptions that will take place on campus, whereas the lighter orange seem to suggest that some courses may be entirely F2F, that they will maximize opportunities for F2F, or try to position the blend ambiguously.

I suspect we’ll see most of the remaining institutions announce in the next 4-6 weeks, so that faculty can prepare accordingly and students can register. (While institutions hold their collective breaths to see how much “melt” occurs before their course add/drop dates in the next few weeks, I have to wonder whether some may be cynically keeping quiet about the inevitable, so as not to scare off students who still have their hopes up for January.)



Your Future is Bright at uLethbridge

I’ve long been a fan of uLethbridge’s “Shine” brand, and the way it leverages the solar shield and Fiat Luxmotto. Last week UofL released a 90-sec spot that does a lovely job capturing the setting of both campuses, small clusters of students relaxing, studying, training athletically and conducting research – all set to a peppy banjo ditty. (All I caught was “are you ready for the ride?”)  YouTube


Thanks for reading!  Stay safe and be well,

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