Eduvation Blog

Enrolment Odyssey and the Student Experience

Good morning!

Today, let’s take a look at several surveys and studies that sum up what we’ve endured this year in CdnPSE, from enrolments to the student and faculty experience.

But first –

Our 2020 Odyssey

I admit I can’t resist this one…

Like something straight out of Arthur C Clarke’s 2001:A Space Odyssey, public safety workers in Utah spotted a gleaming 12-foot metal monolith in the middle of nowhere, from their helicopter. (I’ve always thought the 2001 monolith, presumably an AI device sent to earth to aid in human evolution, is one of the first popularized examples of educational technology.) The official statement asserts that it is illegal to install structures or art on public lands without authorization, “no matter what planet you’re from.” Google Earth archives reveal it has been there since mid-2016.  CTV

Enrolment Trends

Some predictable patterns are continuing to play out in domestic enrolment…

US Students Less Mobile

As I predicted in March, American college students are opting to stay closer to home this year, thanks to pandemic anxiety, financial challenges, and uncertainty about online learning. An October survey by Brian Communications finds that 50% of parents and 33% of students would prefer a college nearby – a huge increase from similar studies conducted last spring. More than half report that changes in their financial situation has them considering a different option. The study also found that only 53% of students felt a college education was essential (compared to 73% of parents) – and a 2-to-1 preference for 4-year degrees over 2-year college credentials.  University Business

Part-Time Enrolments at Unis

Universities Canada has provided national data from about 100 universities that show enrolment overall rose ~1.5%, but also that first-year enrolments are down -5% (not including Ontario unis), full-time enrolments are down, international and graduate enrolments are all down. Part-time enrolments, which grew 4.5% overall, are responsible for the apparent stability of enrolments. Aside from the significant financial challenges (international and full-time students bring substantially more revenue), a decline in first-year and full-time undergraduates will have an impact for the next 3-4 years. (Or, as I first suggested back in March, pent-up demand might contribute to a “double cohort” effect in 2022.) And of course, looking at national averages obscures the very real successes some institutions had in growing enrolment, while others face devastating declines this year.  Globe & Mail

Growing Interest in Transfer

Student interest in credit transfer, permanent or short-term, has hit a record high since March, according to Transferology. “The pandemic has fundamentally changed the in-person college experience and has shattered the previously-held notions of transfer pattern trends.” Traffic at Transferology, which serves ~400 institutions, increased 32% this May over the previous year, and 12.5% from March-July.  University Business

Low-Income Students Drop

Across the US, ~100,000 fewer low-income high school seniors completed their FAFSA financial aid applications for college this fall. Enrolment declines have been especially steep among Black students and rural White students. The pandemic has disproportionately impacted lower-income families and minorities, who experienced greater unemployment, food and housing insecurity, and higher instances of COVID19. They are also unlikely to have reliable access to technology or the internet. (That pattern explains much of the decline in community college enrolment this fall.) First-generation students are unlikely to take a gap year, or to return after stopping out: “they rarely return, diminishing their job and wage prospects for the rest of their lives.”  Washington Post

Enrolment Forecast

Enrolment Challenges Ahead

Multiple surveys and preliminary enrolment reports paint a fairly consistent pattern: declining enrolments, increased operating costs, and government budget cuts at community colleges and regional public universities, while some elite institutions have stable enrolment or have even experienced growth. The biggest concern: first-year enrolment in particular is down 16.1% across the US (and at least 5% in Canada). That will inflict multi-year impacts on enrolment: “we haven’t begun to feel the real economic damage.” And especially in the US, enrolment was strongest at institutions that promised (for good or ill) in-person on-campus instruction – in effect, students really wanted that traditional experience. As we approach the disappointing or disastrous end of the fall term, many US analysts fear  a drop in spring enrolment, now that students know it will be anything but normal.  Chronicle of Higher Ed

Sub-Baccalaureate Boom?

Unlike prior recessions, this year has not seen a surge of adults enrolling in higher ed, particularly at the community colleges that are normally counter-cyclical. That’s because this pandemic is more than just an economic crash: it has brought with it health challenges, parenting challenges, and widespread anxiety and uncertainty. (It has also made hands-on learning and work placements considerably more difficult.) Once the vaccines roll out, though, post-pandemic enrolment may resemble that of the Great Recession. As US unemployment rose in 2008-10, enrolment in vocational (career college) programs rose ~20%, and in community colleges 5%, driven almost entirely by adult degree-completers. “It’s not simply that the recession boosted adult enrollments, but specifically that the Great Recession pushed adult degree completers to go back to school.”  EAB

Rising High School Dropouts?

High school graduation rates have been inching upward in the US since 2011, but analysts fear the trend could be derailed by this year’s pandemic. Some are working to support their families, or caring for younger siblings. Many lack access to technology or reliable internet. Struggling students may be more likely to disengage from blended or online classes, and a “big increase in high sch0ol dropouts” could be coming in early 2021. In South Carolina, 40,000 high school students failed to hand in a single assignment during remote learning this spring. Students in their graduating year were helped by momentum and waived requirements – but many students in their final year now will face an uphill struggle. And students making their first leap to high school this year will also face a challenging transition.  Huffington Post

“We’re pretty nervous. No one seems to be thinking about this or paying attention to this idea that we could just lose large groups of young people right now in the high school years.”Monika Kincheloe, GradNation coordinator, America’s Promise Alliance


“I’ve had people say it could set us back 20 years, that’s the consequence. We’re going to become a country where there’s a class of people who are Black and brown, low-income Indigenous, who aren’t going to get the same shot.”Monika Kincheloe, GradNation coordinator, America’s Promise Alliance


Learning Experience

Student Success Last Spring

Across a cohort of 49 US institutions, course completions this spring dropped in 64% of departments, suggesting that students and faculty did indeed struggle with the abrupt pivot to online delivery. But the worst drop was just 6.15% – and more than a third of departments saw course completions increase. The biggest increase in completion (+3.19%) and second-largest decrease (-6.15%) both occurred in Engineering departments. (Was that because of academic leniency or forgiveness?) Strikingly, instructor type seemed to impact course completion: tenured/tenure-track faculty saw the largest decreases in course completion, compared to adjuncts, grad assistants, or untenured faculty. (Were they teaching tougher courses, or did they struggle more to adapt?) General ed courses seemed to adapt better to the pivot.  EAB

Stress and Challenge at McGill

McGill students are hardly average, but a COVID19 Impact Survey conducted in May is still revealing. ~90% had access to a computer and videoconferencing software, and ~80% had access to online library resources. However, 50% did not have a quiet place to study, 71% experienced personal stress, 73% had difficulty focusing, and 73% want help to get and stay motivated.  McGill

From the Trenches

A new survey from OCUFA landed on my desk yesterday, with some interesting insights into shared and distinct faculty and student perspectives of the pandemic…

Struggles on a COVID Campus

In late October, the Ontario Confederation of University Faculty Associations surveyed 502 Ontario university students and 2,208 faculty members and academic librarians. 62% of students and 76% of faculty feel that “adjustments to course delivery and campus life” because of the COVID19 pandemic have had an “overall negative impact on both the quality of education and students’ general educational experience.” (Undergrads were significantly more dissatisfied than grad students, naturally.) In particular, all are dissatisfied with the level of interaction and engagement online, and are struggling with “social isolation, stress, and a lack of institutional support.” Students are particularly concerned about education quality, mental health, and financial strain, while faculty were also concerned about professional development and their ability to administer tests and exams. 85% of students agree that COVID19 has negatively impacted their ability to participate in extracurriculars, and 59% believe it has increased their time to graduation.

Anxiety about Campus Contagion

Notably, 47% of students were also concerned about their own health and safety while on campus, compared to just 22% of faculty. ~20% of students have contracted COVID19, or know someone who did – and a third of them say it was transmitted “on campus.” While 77% of faculty strongly agreed that mandatory mask policies were effective in helping to protect their health, just 57% of students said the same. And while 83% of faculty members say they have the option of teaching class online, just 55% of students reported having the option. Overall, 91% of faculty agreed that people on campus have been following COVID19 protocols, while just 87% of students agreed.

Looking Up and Forward

Perhaps surprisingly, 16% of students and 9% of faculty say their experience has in fact been positivelyimpacted by the pandemic. Looking forward, 15% of students want to see reduced tuition fees, 13% more online courses, 11% more student supports or adjustments to workload/exams, and PPE. 15% of faculty respondents recommend more tech support and resources, 12% more recognition/compensation for their changing workload, and 11% a move to smaller class sizes or hiring of more TAs or faculty.


COVID on Campus

Collin College (TX) lost a 70-year-old health professor to COVID19 this weekend, but the tragedy has been magnified by the way the college president mishandled communication to the campus. Iris Meda came out of retirement to help train young students to battle the pandemic – but in October, after just 2 months teaching, a student exposed her to COVID19.   Washington Post

Since yesterday CdnPSE added 57 new cases of COVID19, for a total of 783 so far this fall. (My counts are itemized in the spreadsheet here.)

Bishop’s U now reports a total of 28 people on campus have tested positive for COVID19, including 16 students who live in residence. (On Monday we reported 15, so this is an additional 13.) BU is suspending allon-campus activities for the rest of the term.  CBC

Durham College reported another case of COVID19 at its Oshawa campus yesterday. (Total 27 this fall.)  DC

Nipissing U has a declared outbreak after 6 athletes tested positive for COVID19 yesterday. The individuals interacted with other people in the campus gym and at social gatherings in the community. (Total 8 this fall.)  Global

Red River College reports a confirmed case at its Winkler campus. (Total 11 this fall.)  RRC

Western U’s University Hospital reported outbreaks in 3 more units on Monday, now totalling 23 patients and 19 employees who have tested positive. (We called it 6 originally, so now need to add 36 more – bringing Western’s total this fall to 129, now the highest I have tracked in CdnPSE.)  CBC



Since we’re talking about the student experience on campus this fall, it seems appropriate to share 2 “welcome to campus” videos that impressed me with their production values way back on Sep 2…


Welcome to Residence at Laurier

This 3:30 min vid features great widescreen cinematography, and warm welcoming performances by residence manager Melissa and senior don Ethan. “Residence will look just a little bit different this year, but we’re working hard to make sure that your experience will be the best that it can be.” It introduces first year learning communities and leadership opportunities, and outlines COVID19 safety precautions and protocols. As a health and safety video, it feels more positive and nurturing than most!  YouTube


What to Expect on Campus this Fall at uVic

This 2:35 min vid provides students and staff with an overview of physical distancing protocols and signage, safety ambassadors, food services, self-assessments, masks and hand hygiene. Again, it’s a calm and reassuring video featuring a friendly guide.  YouTube



Thanks for reading!  Be safe and stay well,


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