Are you a graduating senior who planned to enroll in college this fall, but COVID-19 is giving you second thoughts? Or maybe you have been out of school for a while and planned on returning or starting college – then COVID 19 hit? While the Coronavirus has changed the world we live in, it should not change your plans to pursue higher education. This is an ideal time to move forward with your educational goals.

Rhona Free

For the almost 3 million students who would typically start college this fall, delaying may seem like a good idea right now, yet there are compelling reasons not to do that. This is especially true for students from traditionally under-represented groups who make up larger and larger shares of college enrollment each year:

  • Students who enroll in college right after high school are more likely to earn a college degree (58% will do so) than students who take time off (40%).
  • More scholarships and financial aid are likely to be available this fall, as philanthropic foundations, financial aid offices, and state and federal programs are providing designated funds to help students who have been impacted by COVID-19.
  • College students may find one of the best opportunities for employment and earnings is on-campus employment. Students in work-study programs, internships, or clinical placements have always been more likely to graduate, and they develop career skills and relationships that prepare them for careers after graduation.
  • Delaying enrolling in college can be detrimental to student-athletes, as a year off from structured practice and competition will impact performance.
  • The last few months of learning online have convinced students that on-campus experiences are extremely valuable, perhaps irreplaceable.  Some students may want to delay enrolling until they are sure they will have those experiences. Traditional colleges are doing everything possible to get campuses ready to return to the face-to-face teaching modes they are known for—their faculty enjoy teaching in person and want to be back in the classroom with students and, as long as it’s safe, that’s what they will do. If it’s not safe, faculty will be prepared to transition to teaching using technology in a way that is effective, rigorous, and engaging.
  • Some students are worried about living on campus because of COVID-19. In Connecticut, a Reopen Connecticut Advisory Group released the nation’s first statewide framework for reopening institutions of higher education. As noted by the  National Governor’s Association, “Connecticut’s framework illustrates the way in which governors can direct planning efforts and engage stakeholders to develop state-specific higher education strategies that provides the necessary clarity for institutions to safely reopen.” Complying with these strategies, colleges in the state will welcome students back to safe classrooms, residence halls, libraries, and gyms next semester.

Earning a college or advanced degree has always been the most reliable way to increase earnings. Graduates with degrees from accredited public or not-for-profit colleges have higher earnings and are less likely to experience unemployment than workers without degrees.

The Pew Research Center reports that in March 2020, as has been the case during prior economic downturns, adults with a bachelor’s degree were less likely than others to report job or wage loss in their household. Workers with a college degree will also be at an advantage as more employers increase telecommuting opportunities. A survey by marketplace.org found that right now about 71% of workers with a bachelor’s degree or higher are working from home, compared to 32% of those without a bachelor’s degree.

Whether age 18 or 50, enrolling in college this year as planned makes sense. The sooner you get your college degree, the sooner you can start your new career or advance in your current one. Taking a year off will mean one more year before you enter the professional workforce and the loss of a year’s worth of earnings, or another year of waiting for a promotion. With record-breaking rates of unemployment, this is the time to prepare for your next job, not search for it.  The future is now.

Rhona C. Free, Ph.D. is the President of the University of Saint Joseph in West Hartford.

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