Two notable shifts in the education landscape have emerged during the pandemic, in addition to the sharp increase in forced distance learning, one of them expected and the other a bit of a surprise.
The completely understandable shift comes in kindergarten enrollment across the country. The pandemic has led more parents than usual making the decision to hold their 5-year-olds back a year before sending them to kindergarten.
Decisions like this are sometimes made by parents who hope their children will be more fit as 19-year-olds in their senior year than they would be as 18-year-olds. So they hold their kids back a year at the beginning in an effort to increase the likelihood their son or daughter will win an athletic scholarship after a stellar senior year in high school.
“The problem is [that virtual learning] is too difficult for the kids and it’s too difficult for the teachers,” Politico quoted Pat Gardner, president of the Sarasota Classified/Teachers Association in Florida, as saying. In Sarasota County, kindergarten enrollment is down by more than 16 percent.
Parents report not “having the luxury” to sit in a kindergarten Zoom classroom with their child for half a day, so they have re-enrolled their 5-year-olds, in droves, in the same pre-K program they were in last year. Sometimes a cost is associated with that, so the option isn’t as available for lower-income families as it might be for others.
Low-income college students are dropping out
The following colleges report alarming declines in enrollment numbers this year since the pandemic started:
- Enrollment at HACC is down 17 percent among Blacks, 19 percent among Hispanics
- Miami Dade College enrollment overall is down 17.5 percent, including a 20-percent decline among Black students
- Northern Virginia Community College and the City University of New York are each down about 4 percent
The greatest reason reported in The Washington Post for students not to attend classes this fall was that they were uncertain about changes to their classes that resulted from the pandemic.
The source for the Posts’s reporting was the US Census Household Pulse Survey.
Two other major reasons for the decision not to enroll were that students were afraid of getting Covid-19 and that they were unable to afford college costs due to a reduction in their family income that occurred after the pandemic hit.
For some of these students, the decision not to enroll this year may end up being a “gap year,” as we reported above for kindergartners. After the pandemic, they may very well resume a normal college experience. A dream delayed is not a dream denied.
Yet many will have missed the window for college, as they launch into new lives that they are unwilling or unable to abandon for a college education.
It’s expected that college enrollment would increase during hard economic times, which is what happened during the 2008 recession.
Except this year is different. As much as “equality of opportunity” means to us on an intellectual level, we Americans are sometimes terribly inefficient at making it happen. For the 55 percent of students who said they dropped out because they were unsure of their ability to get much out of online classes, access to high-speed internet must have been one of the root causes of their uncertainty.
There is a vast digital divide in this country when it comes to high-speed internet, which today is as important as electricity to a college education. Circumstances beyond the control of students without internet have forced them to suspend or cancel their college plans. A high-speed internet connection for these students might have made a difference.