Cost, emotional stress leading to difficulty enrolling in colleges, study finds | SehndeWeb

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Carpentry class at Laney College in Oakland in 2014.

Many adults across the United States who do not attend college want to enroll, but the high costs of attendance prevent them from doing so. At the same time, a significant number of students currently enrolled in college have recently considered dropping out, and they overwhelmingly point to emotional stress as the reason.

These are among the key takeaways from a new study released Thursday by Gallup and the Lumina Foundation. From October to November 2021, Gallup surveyed more than 11,000 college-enrolled adults, college graduates, or prospective students to learn more about their experiences in higher education.

The report comes as public colleges and universities across the country have suffered a significant drop in enrollment during the pandemic, which is especially the case among community colleges. California is no exception to this trend: the state’s system of 116 community colleges lost about 15% of its enrollment in the 2020-21 academic year. One of the state’s four-year college systems, California State University, saw a systemwide decline of just 1.7% in 2021, but 17 of 23 campuses saw declines.

“Enrollments have dropped alarmingly,” Courtney Brown, Lumina Foundation’s vice president for impact and planning, said in a statement. “To reverse this trend, we need to understand the perspectives of students, especially those of non-traditional age students. This includes the barriers they face and the practices that support them. This survey offers information that can help us meet today’s students where they are.

Among students who dropped out or never attended, cost is the biggest barrier, according to the survey. More than half of respondents who have never attended college – 54% of them – cited cost as a very important factor in their decision not to enroll. A similar proportion of students who dropped out also said cost was a very important reason, including 52% of students who dropped out during the pandemic.

The survey found that cost was an important factor for students of all races, with at least 50% of students of all races reporting it as such.

“This research confirms that many people still view cost as the biggest barrier,” Stephanie Marken, Gallup’s executive director for education, said in a statement.

California’s community college system offers the cheapest tuition of any state nationwide, and low-income students generally don’t have to pay tuition thanks to programs like the California College Promise Grant from the State. Tuition is higher at the state’s four-year universities, CSU, and the University of California, but due to the state’s generous Cal Grant financial aid scholarships, most students in the state The state in these systems also does not pay tuition or fees.

What many California students struggle to afford is the state’s high cost of living, especially housing, but also food and transportation.

It’s unclear how many of the students who took part in the Gallup survey are from California. Gallup interviewed 11,227 adults in the United States between the ages of 18 and 59 for the study. The margin of error for results based on this sample was 1.4 percentage points. The survey population included 5,215 university or community college students; 3,010 former students who dropped out of college; and 3,002 adults who never enrolled in college.

Respondents were interviewed through an online portal and, according to the study, the data was weighted to match national demographics of gender, age, race and region.

Cost isn’t the only factor holding students back from attending college, according to the study. About 38% of unregistered respondents also cited family reasons, such as childcare or adult caregiving responsibilities.

And even with these obstacles, most former students have at least considered going back to college. A large majority of students who dropped out during the pandemic – 85% – say they have considered going back to college. Additionally, 56% of people who dropped out before the pandemic say that in the past two years they have considered re-enrolling.

In California, state legislators and colleges have tried to rehire former students and encourage them to return. Last year’s budget provided $100 million for colleges to recruit students, which often involves staff calling former students directly and encouraging them to return. This year’s budget will likely include additional funds for these purposes.

Another key to ensuring that college enrollment does not decline further is to ensure that students who are still enrolled do not leave until they are finished. The Gallup survey revealed that for many students, it has been difficult to stay enrolled in college. About 37% of students pursuing a bachelor’s or associate’s degree said it was difficult or very difficult to stay enrolled in the 2021-22 academic year. Similarly, 41% of students pursuing an associate’s degree and about one-third of students pursuing a bachelor’s degree say they have considered withdrawing.

For students who considered dropping out, by far the most cited reason was emotional stress, with 71% saying it was one of the most important factors leading them to consider dropping out. That’s a big jump from last year’s survey, where just 24% of students pursuing an associate degree said emotional stress was a major reason they were considering dropping out and 42% students in undergraduate programs cited it as the reason.

“While a growing mental health crisis strained institutions before the pandemic, feelings of isolation and academic difficulties caused by the pandemic have exacerbated mental health problems nationwide,” says The report. “…Students are still struggling for their well-being, and this poses a significant risk to their ability to complete their studies.”

EdSource receives funding from more than a dozen foundations, including the Lumina Foundation. Editorial decision-making and content remain under the sole control of EdSource.

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