Reluctant to return?

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A new report by the Strada Education Network shows that many adults who planned to further their education have changed or dropped those plans over the course of the pandemic.

To date, more than one-third of adults have had to change or cancel their education plans due to the pandemic, based on a survey Strada conducted from February to April. The changes are more pronounced among younger adult learners and people of color. Strada has run ongoing surveys of students and employers since the pandemic started in order to gauge trends during the period.

Among adults who said their education plans were altered because of Covid — dubbed “pandemic-disrupted learners” — two-fifths (41%) have canceled their plans altogether, 37% delayed enrollment and 27% reduced their course load or training.

Strada also looked at differences between age groups and ethnic/racial groups. Among adults ages 18 to 24 who had an education plan, 43% said they changed those plans, and 22% said they canceled plans. Among adults 25 and older, the share was 27% and 20%, respectively.

Among racial groups, adult Asians and Latinos had the most shifts in their education plans, 61% and 58%, respectively, with 40% of Asian learners reporting they changed their plans and 23% of Latino learners saying they canceled their plans.

The reported reasons why those adults changed their plans are familiar: cost, work and family obligations, didn’t want to attend in person and health concerns. Other reasons included: change of interest; they couldn’t/didn’t want to attend online; uncertainty if education would be worth it; and they weren’t certain if they would succeed.

Looking aheads

Half of survey participants said their work changed in some way as a result of the economic crisis due to Covid. Those who experienced work change were more than three times more likely to intend to enroll in education than those whose work did not change (32% compared to 9%).

However, a smaller share of disrupted leaners are returning to education, according to Strada. Both adults who are enrolled and those who plan to enroll within the next six months are far lower this spring than last spring. Compared to a year ago, the share of disrupted learners who are enrolled or intend to enroll in an education program in the next six months has declined from 90% to 68%.

Strada also looked at ages and races among disrupted learners to gauge whether they plan to enroll. Younger adults were more likely to indicate plans to pursue education in the short term than older adults by a wide margin: 43% of 18-24 year olds were enrolled, compared to 2% of adults 25 and older. Half of the younger adults intended to enroll in the next six months, compared to 34% of older adults.

Source: Strada Education Network, “Back to Class: Will Pandemic-Disrupted Learners Return to School?” May 2021.

When comparing survey results among races/ethnicity, what stands out is that far fewer whites indicated they were enrolled or planned to do so soon — 39% compared to Blacks (57%), Latinos (59%) and Asians (64%). Strada officials noted this may reflect more whites being skeptical about the value of postsecondary education.

Disrupted learners also are gravitating more toward worked-based and nontraditional programs. They indicated they planned to soon enroll in a:

  • Employer-based learning program (26%)
  • Online noncollege training (25%)
  • Online-only college (19%)
  • Apprenticeship/internship (18%)
  • Trade school/program (17%)
  • Community college (17%)
  • four-year institution (16%)

About the Author

Matthew Dembicki
Matthew Dembicki edits Community College Daily and serves as associate vice president of communications for the American Association of Community Colleges.