Why college students may elect for community college amid COVID-19 uncertainty

Education

AUSTIN (KXAN) — As universities across the nation consider whether or not they can offer in-person teaching in the fall, higher education experts predict community colleges may see a surge in enrollment.

COVID-19 has led to far-reaching financial insecurity for families.

Officials predict students will pull out of the traditional university model in favor of the more affordable and flexible option, especially if classes are required to be taken online.

“Some families, their income has gone down drastically and they don’t know what their future holds,” said Christina Wallace, the college and career transition coordinator for Rouse High School in the Leander Independent School District.

Wallace said she has had to walk families through difficult decisions as universities attempt to make plans for the 2020-21 school year.

“Going off to college and having that college experience is part of that whole package. So when schools started talking about going online in the fall, I think that’s when students and families began questioning whether or not it was worth it,” Wallace said.

Many universities still haven’t made a final decision about in-person schooling yet.

A spokesperson for the University of Texas at Austin said the school’s academic planning group is still moving forward with the assumption that classes will be held in-person. He also said there is no indication yet that student enrollment at UT will drop for the fall semester.

Austin Community College, on the other hand, said it’s planning to offer the majority of its courses online except for courses that require in-person training, like welding. Those classes will be granted an exemption on a case-by-case basis.

ACC has reported higher summer enrollment than last year and is anticipating even more students to register in the coming weeks.

“We’re not excited about the fact that university enrollments are going to be down significantly. That’s not in our long term interest either. We are all just supporters of students participating in higher education,” said Neil Vickers, the Executive Vice President of Finance and Administration for Austin Community College.

While declining admissions is one of the largest threats to university revenue streams, Austin Community College announced on Tuesday that tuition rates will remain the same for the seventh year in a row. The Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board reports that it’s been more affordable for Central Texans to attend ACC than other university options.

For the 2019-20 school year, UT was nearly $8,000 more expensive for one year of full time learning, according to the board. A spokesperson for UT-Austin said there is no plan to decrease the cost of tuition in the fall.

Moving forward, experts say both colleges and univeristies may need to find new ways to attract students. Historically, tuition rates increase following an economic downturn. Following the 2008 financial crisis, Vickers said tuition rates increased between 2010 and 2013.

“Can we offer tuition discounts? Can we increase student aid?” Vickers proposed. “We darn sure aren’t going out and trying to steal [students] away, I think we all have to be a part of the solution.”

Do you have a story idea or tip you want to share? Follow KXAN’s Education Reporter Alex Caprariello on social media or send him a message to alexc@kxan.com.

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