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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.

Seniors Section

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:

Graduation:
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.”

Post-Graduation Plans:
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

Career Plans:
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.

Infographic of how COVID-19 has changed the lives of High School Students

During these changing times, the College Savings Foundation recollects wise words once spoken by Nelson Mandela, “Education is the most powerful weapon which you can use to change the world.” CSF’s education savings mission serves families and individuals of all income levels and ethnic backgrounds across the nation.