College Savings Foundation Survey of High School Students Finds COVID-19 Changes Higher Education Plans and Financing
June 3, 2020
55% of seniors, juniors and sophomores across country say pandemic will impact the rest of their lives
Washington, DC, June 4 – The economic uncertainty of COVID-19 is altering the future of higher education for a swath of high school students across the country. College Savings Foundation’s (CSF) survey of over 1,000 sophomores, juniors and seniors has found that at least a third of them will change both their plans for higher education and how they will finance it.
Completed in early May, the survey provides a variety of insights into the impact of the global health crisis on young people. For example, nearly one-in-five students say their experience with the pandemic will affect their career plans; over half, 55%, say that the experience will impact the rest of their lives.
“The COVID-19 health crisis is causing many young people to change and adapt their plans; but we are heartened to learn that they continue to save which will provide some stability in this period of their lives,” said Vivian Tsai, Chair of CSF, a national nonprofit helping American families save for higher education.
Nearly half of all students, 48%, are saving for higher education costs. Three quarters (74%) said their parents were saving as well, with 25% of those saving primarily in a 529 higher education account.
Students are feeling financial pressure due to the crisis, which showed up in a variety of ways:
- Higher Ed plans: 37% of students said their post-high school plans will change, with 40% of those now planning on community college to save on costs, and another 25% taking a gap year to get back on track financially. Prior to COVID-19, 43% planned on going to public college, 25% to community college, 15% to private college, 9% to technical and career education, with 2% to an apprenticeship, and 6% other (such as military).
- Higher Ed financing: 33% of all students said that COVID-19 is affecting their higher education financing, with 54% of those saying that a parent was laid off and will have less to save for college, and 41% expecting to take on more debt.
- The effect of stock market: 34% said the decline had affected their parents’ savings accounts, with half saying that this would affect their future plans in a variety of ways.
The importance of saving emerged in a larger question on the pandemic. Of the 55% who said COVID-19 would impact the rest of their lives, the top two answers were that 62% would be more aware of personal and public hygiene, crowds and personal space, and 28% would be more aware of personal finances and the need to save and prepare for economic disruption.
The survey also provided a snapshot of how students are experiencing COVID-19’s impact:
Remote learning and graduations:
- Almost all students (97%) surveyed had their schools closed with 91% of those closed through the rest of the school year; 92% are taking online classes.
- Graduation plans were in flux at the time of the survey: 19% planned virtual graduations, 21% were not holding graduations, and 53% were still undecided.
- The majority of those students (54%) said that while they understand the need to have social distance, they were sad to not have the ceremony; 37% said the ceremony should happen when the emergency is over.
Social distancing and quarantines:
- 22% of students said that social distancing and self-quarantining would change their plans for higher education.
- Of those, two categories stood out: 41% are more likely to attend a higher education institution closer to home and 28% are more likely to start at a local community college and then transfer to a 4-year college later.
Students’ career plans:
- 19% of high school students said it likely would affect their career plans. Here’s how:
- 31% would change their course of study to a health services field.
- 29% will consider fields where tele-working is a viable option and layoffs are less likely.
- 18% will change their course of study to a public safety field.
- 11% would consider work in the public sector – state or local government.
- A separate question found that, of that 19% thinking about changing career plans, nearly half (49%) said being a healthcare worker would be most appealing, followed by 16% finding emergency services/firefighter positions appealing.
CSF took a special look at the high school graduating class of 2020 who are most immediately experiencing the effect of COVID-19 on their graduation and higher education plans. Here are key findings:
For the 92% of seniors who will have a virtual graduation (20%), no graduation (16%) or whose school was undecided (55%):
- 66% said that they understand the need to social distance, but are sad not to have the ceremony
- 21% said they thought the ceremony should happen when the emergency is over.
- 8% thought the school should hold it no matter what.
- 5% answered “Other.”
Prior to COVID, here were seniors’ plans:
- 38% – Public College
- 28% – Community College
- 18% – Private College
- 8% – Technical and Career Education
- 2% – Apprenticeship Program
- 5% – Other
How and Why Seniors’ Plans Changed:
Plans for Higher Ed:
39% of seniors said that economic uncertainty due to COVID-19 would affect their post-grad plans. Of those:
- 36% would go to community college to save on costs.
- 27% would take a gap year to get back on track financially.
- 15% would go to a public rather than a private college.
- 10% would pursue a trade or technical certification.
- 12% Other
26% of seniors said that the COVID-19 response (self-quarantining and social distancing) would change their plans. Of those:
- 37% are more likely to attend higher ed institution closer to home.
- 27% are more likely to start at a local community college and then transfer to a 4-year school.
- 24% will take a gap year.
- 7% will pursue a trade or technical training.
- 5% Other
Financing for Higher Ed:
35% of seniors said that economic uncertainty due to COVID-19 affected their higher education financing plans. Of those:
- 51% had a parent laid off and would have less saved to pay for college.
- 43% will take on more debt to cover the costs of education.
- 6% Other
19% of seniors said that COVID-19 would change their career paths. Of those:
- 31% would change their course of study to health services field.
- 26% would consider fields where tele-working is a viable option and layoffs less likely.
- 21% would change their course of study to public safety field.
- 7% would consider work in the state or local government.
- 15% Other
When asked what is most appealing, this group said:
- 51% Healthcare worker (nurse, doctor, medical technician, healthcare administrator)
- 19% Emergency services/Firefighter
- 10% Police officer
- 7% Public Policy/Urban Management
- 12% Other
The CSF Survey of 1,024 High School students during COVID-19 was conducted via Survey Monkey with parental approval.