Q. Online is experiencing fewer inquiries and applications. Is this something that we should be anticipating will continue? What are the short-term and long-term implications of COVID-19 on adult enrollment?


Yes, a number of schools have told us that they are seeing a softening of interest in online programs. This is not surprising given the turmoil and uncertainty the pandemic has created. Many people have more pressing things on their minds than enrolling in college. More time needs to elapse to allow many people to see beyond the next few weeks. 

As the medium-term future starts to clear, and the severity of the economic downturn comes into focus, many adults may begin to think seriously about some kind of formal education. Unemployment is likely to remain high for many months. Sustained stay-at-home orders or advisories will also favor enrollment and online learning. 

The key question will be the balance between the severity of the recession and the federal stimulus. If the latter cannot match the former, a more depression-like period may ensue, where the economic damage is so bad that many consumers cannot think beyond immediate necessities. This will depress college enrollment. If the stimulus is a match then colleges can be more flexible on admission and terms, and consumers can place a bet on school.

One wild card is a federal opening of Title IV to non-higher education institutions offering short, cheap, career-aligned programs, which would weaken demand for traditional degrees, online or otherwise. Another might be growing consumer appetite for the array of free or very cheap online courses from MOOCs and the like. Might severe economic strain push many consumers to make-do with these kinds of education?

If colleges believe in their programs and think they are worth the time and cost, now is the time to make the value proposition crystal clear to consumers.

Richard Garrett

Eduventures Chief Research Officer at ACT | NRCCUA

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