New Report Highlights Mental Health, Cost as Risks to Student Enrollment During Pandemic

By Hugh T. Ferguson, NASFAA Senior Staff Reporter

Disruptions to students’ higher education plans have been heightened by the pandemic — and a new report highlights the ways in which U.S. adults are approaching their post-pandemic college pathways.

A recent survey from Lumina Foundation and Gallup aims to provide institutions with information that can help them improve enrollment trends for current and prospective students, by identifying barriers for different cohorts. 

Of the 11,227 U.S. adults surveyed between October 19 and November 22, 2021, 5,215 were currently enrolled in an associate or bachelor's degree program, 3,010 had some college experience but no degree and were not currently enrolled, and 3,002 had never enrolled in higher education.

The survey asked currently enrolled students about ongoing risks to their enrollment, as well as the policies and programs that allowed them to remain enrolled, while students that stopped out or never enrolled were asked about the reasons they were not currently enrolled.

The main takeaways of the report for the unenrolled underscores that while many students have a favorable view of continuing their education, the pandemic has created challenges.

Of the more than 6,000 respondents who were not currently enrolled, 44% reported that they have considered enrolling in a bachelor’s degree, associate degree, industry certification, or certificate program in the past two years. Additionally, more than half of all unenrolled adults reported that the cost of a college degree was a “very important” consideration they made in determining not to continue with their education.

Further, the report showed that 85% of the 3,010 students who stopped out during the pandemic have considered reenrolling.

Among the enrolled students surveyed there were a number of concerning responses indicating that continuing to pursue a postsecondary credential could be a challenge in the years to come, with 36% of bachelor’s degree and 39% of associate degree students reporting that it was “difficult” to remain enrolled through the fall semester of 2021.

Roughly one-third (32%) of bachelor’s degree and 41% of associate degree students reported that they have considered stopping out in the past six months. The vast majority — 76% of bachelor’s degree students and 63% of associate degree students — said emotional stress was their top reason for considering stopping out.

“While a growing mental health crisis challenged institutions prior to the pandemic, feelings of isolation and academic difficulties caused by the pandemic have exacerbated mental health struggles nationally,” the report said, noting a high percentage of students reporting experiences with depression and anxiety in 2020. “Now, one year later, students are still struggling with their wellbeing, and it is posing a significant risk to their ability to complete their degrees.”

While the paper documents these risks to reenrollment the survey also found that among all U.S. adults, including those currently enrolled as well as prospective students, that higher education was a pathway to a more fulfilling career and a higher-paying job. Obtaining specific knowledge or a set of skills, were cited as key motivating factors for surveyed adults to either continue or consider reenrolling in higher education.


Publication Date: 5/11/2022

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