College enrollment is dropping sharply among high school seniors.
A new report finds the number of students who immediately went on to college this year fell by nearly 22% on average.
Breaking that down by area, under-served communities have been hit hardest, nearly a 30% drop for low-income high schools and 33% for high poverty high schools.
The National College Attainment Network funded the research. They tell us students lost access to support networks when schools went virtual.
And then, many students in communities hit hardest by COVID-19 didn't have a choice other than to get a job and support their families.
“They get used to that. Their families get used to that. Their families need that from them, and it makes the idea of thinking about college later in life after high school graduation all the more impossible,” said Kim Cook, Executive Director at the National College Attainment Network.
The group's biggest message is to stay engaged.
It's not too late to apply for federal student aid, like the Pell Grant or subsidized student loans.
There are online resources through the U.S. Department of Education and platforms like the Common App that offer chat options to answer questions.
Even just a couple classes at a community college will help keep you on track. You can also reach out to institutions you previously applied to but felt like you couldn't go to. Talk to the financial aid office about how your circumstances have changed.
“This is all about making it an open conversation and reaching out to those supports and telling them you'd like to enroll and asking them to help you make that happen and what kind of options you have now,” said Cook.
The data suggests that declining college enrollment will not only continue, but possibly get worse next fall.
This time of year, current seniors should be focusing on keeping grades up and writing essays for applications.