The past several weeks have been an emotional rollercoaster. Hopefully, you had some time to unplug and recharge during the break. We turned the page on 2020, but not on the ongoing pandemic and its disruptions. And we all witnessed the events of January 6. I have toggled between shock, sadness, and anger at the hate-fueled insurrection and overt expression of white supremacy culture inside the seat of our government.
Our work must continue, and events at the end of 2020 give me encouragement and pause amid the tumult.
On the encouraging side, Congress came together to improve and expand access to financial aid, which will help more than two million students a year. This would not have happened without tireless effort by many of our partners over many years.
At the same time, we face immediate challenges. Enrollment is down, particularly among community college and first-time students. While the drop is not surprising and less than some had predicted, any backsliding demands our attention – and action.
And there was mixed news. Americans still believe strongly in the value of postsecondary education, but the pandemic has put a dent in their confidence.
So let’s continue into 2021 knowing that flipping a page on the calendar doesn’t eliminate the challenges we face and at the same time recognizing that real progress is possible and within reach.
Just before adjourning for the term, Congress passed a spending and COVID relief bill that will simplify the FAFSA, reducing the number of questions from 108 to a maximum of 36. It also restores Pell Grant eligibility for incarcerated students after a nearly 30-year ban. Read more from our partners at NCAN and IHEP about these important steps forward.
A new survey released by Third Way and conducted by Global Strategy Group found that while the pandemic has slightly dampened perceptions of college value among likely voters, two-thirds still rate return on investment as “excellent” or “good.” Respondents also said that colleges and universities have a role to play in improving value and called for more transparency from institutions.
The National Student Clearinghouse found a 3.5% decline in Fall 2020 undergrad enrollment, driven largely by a 13.1% drop in enrollment of first-time students and a 10% decrease at community colleges. Enrollment at public and private four-year institutions remained essentially flat.