Minority, low-income students more likely to have changed college plans

COVID-19 having unequal impact on higher ed trajectory

MINORITY AND LOW-INCOME students are more likely than white and better-off students to have changed college plans due the pandemic, according to new results from a poll conducted by the MassINC Polling Group. Students who lack sufficient communication devices or internet access and students with language barriers are also among those most likely to have changed college plans or to be considering deferring their college attendance.

“The ability to bowl your way through difficulties now and say my child’s going to do exactly what they were going to do before is certainly a privilege,” said Steve Koczela, president of the MassINC Polling Group, a for-profit affiliate of MassINC, the public policy think tank that publishes CommonWealth.

The new data come from a survey of 1,502 tenth to twelfth grade parents in Massachusetts, conducted June 4-19. It provides an early look at how the COVID-19 pandemic is likely to impact students’ college plans, although researchers acknowledge that could change.

Koczela noted that colleges are still developing their reopening plans, politicians are continuing to weigh in on in-person education, and the trajectory of the virus is constantly shifting. “Now the US is on a crisis track when it comes to the direction of cases, which will also impact what’s even possible by the time August and September roll around,” Koczela said.

The poll found that a relatively small portion of parents – 17 percent – said their child’s plans have changed regarding college since the coronavirus outbreak. When asked about their future college plans, 24 percent said their child is more likely to delay attending college.

There are clear demographic differences in whose college plans are being upended, and those with technology and language burdens were the most affected. Of those who said their child has changed their college plans, 37 percent reported not having enough internet access during the pandemic and 29 percent reported not having enough devices; 31 percent spoke Spanish at home; 29 percent lived in a Gateway City; and 27 percent were furloughed or looking for work. The survey found that 17 percent of white parents reported their child changing college plans, compared to 26 percent of Latino parents and 22 percent of black parents.

Of those considering delaying college, at least 40 percent lack sufficient internet or devices at home, at least 30 percent are Latino or Spanish-speaking, 29 percent live in a Gateway City, and 24 percent are black.

Device and internet access generally correlate with income, with poorer families having less access.

The poll asked about other changes since the pandemic outbreak beyond delaying college. Twenty-two percent of parents said their children were now more likely to attend college online. Thirty-three percent of parents also reported that their children were now more likely to attend a four-year college and 30 percent said they were more likely to attend a public college.

As students consider college attendance, affordability has always been a major factor. But this year, health and safety concerns are as much of a concern as finances. The survey found that 72 percent of parents were concerned either a great deal or a fair amount about affordability, and 70 percent were concerned about health or safety. Slightly lower percentages worry about college closures (62 percent) and reduced preparation time (59 percent), with non-white parents worrying more than white parents about every issue.

Meet the Author

Shira Schoenberg

Reporter, CommonWealth

About Shira Schoenberg

Shira Schoenberg is a reporter at CommonWealth magazine. Shira previously worked for more than seven years at the Springfield Republican/MassLive.com where she covered state politics and elections, covering topics as diverse as the launch of the legal marijuana industry, problems with the state's foster care system and the elections of U.S. Sen. Elizabeth Warren and Gov. Charlie Baker. Shira won the Massachusetts Bar Association's 2018 award for Excellence in Legal Journalism and has had several stories win awards from the New England Newspaper and Press Association. Shira covered the 2012 New Hampshire presidential primary for the Boston Globe. Before that, she worked for the Concord (N.H.) Monitor, where she wrote about state government, City Hall and Barack Obama's 2008 New Hampshire primary campaign. Shira holds a master's degree from Columbia University's Graduate School of Journalism.

About Shira Schoenberg

Shira Schoenberg is a reporter at CommonWealth magazine. Shira previously worked for more than seven years at the Springfield Republican/MassLive.com where she covered state politics and elections, covering topics as diverse as the launch of the legal marijuana industry, problems with the state's foster care system and the elections of U.S. Sen. Elizabeth Warren and Gov. Charlie Baker. Shira won the Massachusetts Bar Association's 2018 award for Excellence in Legal Journalism and has had several stories win awards from the New England Newspaper and Press Association. Shira covered the 2012 New Hampshire presidential primary for the Boston Globe. Before that, she worked for the Concord (N.H.) Monitor, where she wrote about state government, City Hall and Barack Obama's 2008 New Hampshire primary campaign. Shira holds a master's degree from Columbia University's Graduate School of Journalism.

Ben Forman, research director at MassINC, said the pandemic exacerbates a long-standing problem — that low-income students are more likely to run into problems that make it difficult for them to obtain a college degree, which then hurts their ability to earn money as adults.

The poll was sponsored by the Barr Foundation, the Boston Foundation, and the Smith Family Foundation.