Survey Highlights Pandemic’s Initial Impact on Recent College Graduates

By Hugh T. Ferguson, NASFAA Senior Staff Reporter

A new longitudinal study gives insight into how the initial months of the pandemic impacted 2015-16 bachelor’s degree earners, with a particular focus on trends related to enrollment, student debt and repayment, work, and family experiences.

Conducted in 2020, the survey data of 17,160 college graduates was collected by the National Center for Education Statistics (NCES). The final report, published in September 2022, is based on data from the 2016/20 Baccalaureate and Beyond Longitudinal Study (B&B:16/20).

During the survey period there was significant economic uncertainty — the U.S. lost over 22 million jobs between March and April of 2020, national unemployment reached 14.7%, and federal student loans were placed into administrative forbearance.

According to the report, roughly 52% of graduates, who had all federal student loans in administrative forbearance as of June 30, 2020, continued to make payments on their balances while in administrative forbearance.

The data indicates that prior to the emergency declaration these borrowers paid an average total amount of $1,140 over a 3.5-month span before March of 2020 and in the same time span following the enactment of the pause, those borrowers on average paid $750, which all went to principal. The Department of Education (ED) has indicated that those payments are eligible for a refund. 

In terms of the workforce impact, 26% of 2015-16 bachelor’s degree earners said they worked more than desired due to the COVID-19 pandemic, while 27% said they worked less than desired. Additionally, 8% took a job outside their field of study, and 8% took a less desirable job.

Efforts to further one's education were also split, with 13% percent saying they delayed enrolling in additional education or training, and 14% saying they pursued additional education or training due to the pandemic.

In terms of the economic impact, full-time employment rates for 2015-16 bachelor’s degree earners, prior to the pandemic, ranged across the country from 73% to 81%. But in the early months of the pandemic, those rates saw a slight dip, ranging from 68% to 78%.

Graduates also reported various family and financial experiences due to the COVID-19 pandemic, with 8.9% delaying marriage, 7.4% delaying having children, 13.1% delaying buying a home, and 10.1% reporting that they were unable to meet essential expenses. 

ED welcomed feedback on their report as well as any additional NCES products, and urged readers to contact [email protected] with their comments.


Publication Date: 9/28/2022

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