Eduvation Blog

The Enrolment Crunch and Vaccine EZ-Passes

Good morning, TGIF, and (depending on your preference) happy International Jazz Day, Oatmeal Cookie Day, Honesty Day, or Hairball Awareness Day!

It looks like the court hearings continue today for Laurentian and its federated universities, so we don’t have as clear a picture as I had hoped yet. I will analyze what we learn today and this weekend, and get back to that on Monday.

Meanwhile, today I have some late-breaking enrolment data from the US, some perspective on the predicament of community colleges there, and an update on the groundswell of mandatory vaccination plans, which have more than doubled this week as the ACHA weighs in…



Postscript: Enrolment Crunch

Yesterday we saw some Application Trends emphasizing the booming applications at top-tier colleges in the US and Canada, but the situation for community colleges in the US is quite dire. “This just in”…


US Enrolment Drops Further

According to new data, released yesterday by the National Student Clearinghouse Research Center, US colleges overall saw undergraduate enrolment drop 5.9% YoY as of Mar 25 – defying expectations by dropping even more than last Fall. As before, community colleges were the hardest hit (-11.3%), thanks to economic impacts on vulnerable students and the challenges of delivering applied programs under COVID19 restrictions. Declines were greatest among traditional-aged students (18-20s), Indigenous students (-13%), and particularly among Black males at community college (-21.5%). Enrolments by males dropped almost twice as much as by females, and increased only at online colleges (+3.5%). The steepest declines were in Oregon and New Mexico, while Nebraska, Utah and West Virginia saw small increases of 1% or less.   NSCRC  |  Insider Higher Ed  |  Chronicle of Higher Ed


“These drastic shifts in enrollment are the latest example of how the pandemic has derailed higher education plans for students across the country, and exposed and deepened inequities along racial and socioeconomic lines.”Mamie Voight, interim president, Institute for Higher Education Policy



Graduate Enrolment Rises

Despite marked declines in undergrad enrolment, the NSCRC data released yesterday shows enrolment increases in master’s (+5.2%) and doctoral (+3.6%) programs across the US. Grad certificates were also up significantly (+10%). Grad students typically come from higher socioeconomic backgrounds, so these divergent trends represent a widening of the opportunity gap in America.



Most Popular Programs

While the decline in undergrad humanities enrolments doubled from last year (to -6.6%), visual/performing arts (-4.8%) and social sciences (-4.3%) are also struggling. (And note that the 2021 YoY changes compound those in 2020.) Undergrad enrolments are up again, although less than last year, in psychology (+3.7%), computer science (+3.4%), and education (+1%). At the master’s level, enrolment is up particularly in computer science (+7.8%), business (+7.6%) and health (+5.1%), while doctoral enrolments jumped in education (+8.2%). ­­­



Boosting Community College

Since Joe Biden’s inauguration, we’ve been anticipating the combination of Bernie Sanders’ popular calls for free tuition and Jill Biden’s experience as a community college professor would mean positive change for the trouble sector. (See my issue, “Biden Time,” from Jan 19.) Sure enough…


Free Community College

Biden’s proposed $1.8 trillion “American Families Plan” would support students from households with incomes below $125,000 by offering 2 years of community college free or subsidizing 2 years of tuition at minority-serving universities. (There are already 31 statewide free-college initiatives across the US, typically to top-up existing grants and scholarships.) Naturally it’s a fiercely partisan issue, unlikely to gain Republican support, but some progressives (and 4-year college enrolment managers) are concerned that it could divert disadvantaged students to community colleges, where just 15% currently complete a 4-year degree. (Of course, that’s also because so many of those students face significant barriers and challenges.) That’s why Biden’s plan also proposes $62B towards student retention initiatives at institutions serving at-risk students, and $80B to raise the maximum Pell Grant by $1,400 (+22%). There are also unanswered questions about whether Biden is proposing a “first-dollar” or “last-dollar” program. (The former would cover tuition, leaving Pell grants and other funding to support students’ textbook and living costs.) It remains to be seen, of course, how much of this proposal makes it past Congress.  Chronicle of Higher Ed  |


Proven Impacts on Students

The “Tennessee Promise” is one of the oldest free-tuition programs in the US, established in 2014. Recent research suggests that such programs led to 40% growth in first-time full-time students at eligible colleges in Tennessee, and a 25% improvement in degree completion among students in Kalamazoo. The program also reduced the number of students taking out student loans by ~40%, and the amount borrowed by ~30%.  Forbes


The Road to Recovery

COVID19’s disproportionate impact on low-income and BIPOC students has accelerated enrolment declines at the community colleges that most often serve them, and the financial fallout will persist. Many lack reliable internet access, have had to home-school young children, or have been less likely to pursue high school dual enrolment programs. “The students were so taxed and so stressed that they didn’t want to think about dual credit.” Some worry about declining high school completion due to the pivot to remote learning. Second chance programs in correctional facilities were suspended as prisons locked down. In response to these challenges, community colleges are providing technology and emergency aid to students, launching phone and text recruitment campaigns, and even hosting drive-thru registration events. And while many states have managed to keep funding cuts to a minimum, some colleges worry about the impacts of remote learning – declining enrolments and retention – on their future funding. The prospect of a Fall in which college students and their children can return to classrooms, and recruiters can again hit the high schools, offers a glimmer of hope to community college leaders. “We’re ready for them. We just don’t know if they’re ready for us.”  Chronicle of Higher Ed



Vaccine Mandates

For several weeks now, US higher ed – first elite private colleges, then major public universities – have been announcing that students will be required to be fully vaccinated against COVID19 before they can return to campus this Fall. In my summary this Monday, we were up to 84 institutions or systems that had announced, including UC and Cal State, with 1 million employees and students. In just 4 days, that has more than doubled…


181 US Institutions so far

The Chronicle now lists 181 US colleges making vaccination mandatory for on-campus students this Fall, with some religious or medical exemptions. (Connecticut and 5 other states have explicitly eliminated the religious exemption.) Only a few have qualified that requirement, making it contingent on full FDA approval of a vaccine (which is expected this summer). And of course, just 15 are in states that voted for Trump in 2020.


ACHA says Go Mandatory

Yesterday the American College Health Association, which represents >1,000 US institutions, recommended that campuses make vaccines mandatory this Fall, “where state law and available resources allow.” (At least 5 Republican governors have banned the practice in advance.) The requirement, they say, should apply to all students who “live on campus and/or participate in on-campus classes, studies, research, or activities,” with exemptions for medical contraindications. In the meantime, ACHA urges institutions to encourage their students to get vaccinated now, before heading home at the end of term, and to support education and outreach programs to overcome vaccine hesitancy, on- and off-campus. They also recommend institutions “examine the additional positive impact” of a vaccine requirement for faculty, staff and contractors on campus, and “at the very least” make it mandatory for frontline student health staff.  ACHA


“Comprehensive COVID-19 vaccination is the most effective way for institutions of higher education to return to a safe, robust on-campus experience for students.”ACHA



The “EZ-Pass Lane”

Short of a vaccine requirement, some colleges may instead demand daily symptom screening and 3x weekly COVID19 testing – but exempt those who are vaccinated from the requirement. “Getting the vaccine becomes a convenience factor.” uIllinois at Urbana-Champaign announced such a plan yesterday.  Insider Higher Ed


The situation in the US is slightly ahead of Canada, since 43% of Americans have received at least one vaccine dose, and certainly the political and legal context is somewhat different. But CdnPSEs hoping to bring students back to campus for a traditional residential experience – like say the Maple League institutions did last year – may well be first to consider mandating vaccinations too. Our issue is vaccine supply…


The Challenge of Timing

UFV politics prof Hamish Telford observes that PHO Bonnie Henry’s announcement in early March, promising a return to F2F PSE instruction this Fall, “may well have been premature.” Never mind the current third wave – the real issue is one of vaccine timing. At the current pace of vaccinations, most university students won’t be vaccinated until November. Even if BC can double that pace to hit its target of every adult receiving their second dose “by September,” the full effects of vaccination take 2 weeks longer than that. “We would not be in a position to resume face-to-face instruction until after Thanksgiving – at the earliest.” Since students will be registering for Fall classes shortly, Telford argues that universities should postpone F2F instruction for “at least one more term.” (Certainly, a growing number of CdnPSEs are describing the Fall 2021 term as a “transitional” one, before a more complete return to campus in January 2022. You can see my summary of Fall announcements here, and I will have more on that soon.)  Vancouver Sun



COVID on Campus

There have been no new cases of COVID19 reported by CdnPSE since yesterday, and only 42 all this week – which looks like progress, as campus residences empty out for the lower-density spring and summer terms. (See my master spreadsheet for a running tally of 2,600+ cases in CdnPSE since Sept 2020.)  


Fleming College is proceeding with its own investigation into the Severn Court student residence outbreak in Peterborough, now that the local PHO and Police investigations have closed. The outbreak, sparked by student parties Feb 20 at the privately-owned off-campus residence, ultimately infected 90 (and hundreds more in the community), and led to the death of 31-year-old Fleming student Zachary Root. The College opened an anonymous tip line, and hired a former homicide officer to lead the investigation, which completed its report last week. Now that report goes to a tribunal to consider college sanctions against the students involved, ranging from a reprimand or community service to expulsion.  Global




As the first full academic year of COVID19 comes to a close, we certainly hope it will be the last. Plenty of institutions have released videos lately reflecting on the social and mental challenges of the past year, congratulating students on their resilience and allowing them to express their gratitude. But York released a really unusual example of the genre yesterday…



Congrats from your Laptop

York U published a 1-min tongue-in-cheek video yesterday, congratulating students on completing their exams and coursework. Unlike hundreds of similar videos, though, this one comes “from your electronic BFF,” who has been with you all year long. “I swear I didn’t mute you on purpose,” says the synthesized voice, and “I will miss our time together.” Over the summer, your BFF plans “to take this opportunity to grow as a computer, like clearing my cache and installing that update” – and “maybe I will find hobbies outside of watching you watch Netflix.” As you would expect, the computer’s performance is a bit wooden, but it’s a creative idea!  YouTube



As always, thanks for reading, and have a great weekend!

Stay safe and be well,



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