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6 College-Related Problems and Proposed Solutions in the Time of COVID-19

Pamela Donnelly here. As a professional consultant working with corporate, non-profit and governmental organizations within the college admissions sector, I am offering this article to support awareness and encourage student-centered decisions at a time when financial fears may hijack better thinking. I invite you to connect with me, and to view other analyses here on LinkedIn for more on related topics, which reflect portions of my dissertation research.

Problem: some seniors who were already deferred in Early Action (EA) or Early Decision (ED) have now been waitlisted in Regular Decision (RD). This comes on the heels of increasing trends over the past several years for consultants and parents to strategize likelihood of acceptance on the basis of being an early applicant. According to Forbes Magazine, “one of the most important (ways to get an edge in the competitive college admissions process) is applying Early Decision” (11 October 2019).  A greater boost in positive outcomes for time has resulted, but with COVID-19 colleges are scrambling to manage enrollment and the old rules no longer apply. Solution: colleges need to honor all EA and ED decisions already shared and not create additional havoc for students. It is unethical to play the field at the expense of students’ emotional wellness. Respect them and their families with firm and clear admits or denies.

  • Problem: college enrollment professionals are concerned that the fallout from COVID-19 may weaken their ability to manage the enrollment process and balance budgets. A quick primer: yield, critical fiscal  calculated as the number of students enrolled divided by the number admitted. As the current economic decline leads lost jobs and a wavering stock market, many parents are now reconsidering plans for their students this fall. Solution: Moving the candidate’s reply deadline from May 1 to June 1 has begun in numerous colleges. Notably, almost 7,000 people have signed a petition at change.org in favor of a May 1 à June 1 move. However, if COVID-19 predictions of moving quarantine recommendations into mid-summer are correct, we could have a debacle on our hands. As an interesting side note here, institutions like UMass Boston, Temple U, Juniata, and Lewis & Clark have extended their applications deadlines.
  •  Problem: spring break, usually a time for final campus visits for seniors and first visits for many juniors, has been compromised due to everything closing and travel being curtailed. Because of cancelled accepted applicant weekends, equity is potentially even more endangered than it already was. Those 12th graders who aren’t wealthy enough to afford visiting last minute individually once the virus is under control may not have the chance to make an informed choice. Even schools willing to accommodate visitors once quarantines wane will not likely have students or faculty present. A visit to see architecture and the local town or city is hardly worth the trip. Solution: remember that virtual campus visits are an increasingly popular option (I’m happy to share resources on this with anyone who wants to reach out). 
  •  Problem: parents are bristling at the idea of spending tens of thousands of dollars per semester in private school costs for colleges moving to online-only classes. This is true for the current semester, an inescapable situation, but will also hold true for future determinations. The campus experience – not to mention the space between parents and teens as they individuate – is a significant portion of that value proposition. Solution: I predict many parents of seniors may push back on their previous preferences for private institutions and instead send their sons and daughters to less costly options like some small liberal arts colleges or state schools where they can reduce room and board costs as well as find reduced tuition. No one wants to pay $30k or more for a semester of sitting in front of a computer screen. Mid-degree transfers are also likely. Fasten your seatbelts on this one, kids.
  •  Problem: with high schools moving all courses online, and AP exams moving to questionable 45-minute online formats, students cannot know with certainly how colleges will perceive or weight their candidacy based on data obtained under those circumstances. Numerous factors go into college’s predictive modeling, and these are currently impeded by the turns of events as so many secondary and post-secondary schools extend every deadline possible in order to financially protect themselves. I foresee that we will see a rise in US students taking gap years. International students who may be hindered in getting their I-20’s may need to do the same. . Solution: for students who do enroll in fall 2020 classes, colleges need to consider online courses from fall as equally weighted as if they had been in-person instruction. Do not see the asterisk of COVID-19 quarantine as a reason to question the clearly demonstrated work ethic and academic capability of applicants, even when some schools move to  Pass/Fail versus letter or numeric grades on high school transcripts.
  • Problem: SAT/ACT testing dates have been delayed. If these move online as AP exams now are, how will accommodations for students with learning differences that allow them extra time and other supports move forward for both high schools and colleges? Solution: colleges and universities should use this time to join their 1,080 fellow institutions that do not require these outdated modes of student assessment. Place your institution on the right side of history during this industry lull for the sake of equity. Really. It’s time.