Gap year not on horizon for students as most plan to head back to college

Mitchell Hartman Jul 29, 2020
Heard on: Marketplace
The campus of Columbia University in New York City. Few college students are planning to take the next school year off. Jeenah Moon/Getty Images

Gap year not on horizon for students as most plan to head back to college

Mitchell Hartman Jul 29, 2020
The campus of Columbia University in New York City. Few college students are planning to take the next school year off. Jeenah Moon/Getty Images

We’re heading into August, which is when many college students will be heading back to school.

At least remotely for some of them, who will do most of their learning online. That’s to keep COVID-19 from spreading on campuses and through communities. 

But a lot of schools are reopening physically and in person, with at least some amount of face-to-face time — or “masked-and-physically-distanced-face-to-face time” — planned in the classroom. In many cases it’ll be a hybrid model, with some online and some in-person instruction.

A big question has been whether students will be willing to go back to school in large numbers in the midst of a pandemic that’s still raging.

When colleges shut down in March and sent students home to finish the semester, schools worried about whether their students would return in the fall. Especially with all the uncertainty about COVID-19 and whether instruction would be on campus or online.

Sallie Mae, the giant private college lender, surveyed families in the spring, said Senior VP Martha Holler.

“And what we found was there’s really no gap year here,” she said.

Only 2% of students plan to take time off from their education. 

“The overwhelming majority, 78%, are planning on returning to their current school,” Holler said. “Another 5% said, yeah, I’m going to go back, but I’m going to go to a different school.”

Fitch Ratings has also found most students want to stay in school and be at school. Analyst Emily Wadhwani said administrators are trying to calm families’ fears.

“They’re working with health professionals, they have planning teams in place, protocols that will ideally keep the students and the staff and faculty safe — as best they can,” she said.

And it’s not like the choice to take time off would be an easy one, said Beth Akers, higher education expert and senior fellow at the Manhattan Institute. 

“To be in a position of taking a gap year requires a lot of financial privilege,” Akers said. “A lot of students who are in college are older. They may have children, and they may be relying on financial aid to pay their household expenses.”

Many schools are still finalizing their fall plans. And Robert Franek, editor-in-chief at the Princeton Review, said while the 100% online model may be the right thing for some schools due to the pandemic, “students still want to be face-to-face, in class, or some hybrid model.”

And he said some students are still delaying their decision, waiting to find out if they’ll be living and learning on campus or at home with their parents. 

COVID-19 Economy FAQs

How many people are flying? Has traveled picked up?

Flying is starting to recover to levels the airline industry hasn’t seen in months. The Transportation Security Administration announced on Oct. 19 that it’s screened more than 1 million passengers on a single day — its highest number since March 17. The TSA also screened more than 6 million passengers last week, its highest weekly volume since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic. While travel is improving, the TSA announcement comes amid warnings that the U.S. is in the third wave of the coronavirus. There are now more than 8 million cases in the country, with more than 219,000 deaths.

How are Americans feeling about their finances?

Nearly half of all Americans would have trouble paying for an unexpected $250 bill and a third of Americans have less income than before the pandemic, according to the latest results of our Marketplace-Edison Poll. Also, 6 in 10 Americans think that race has at least some impact on an individual’s long-term financial situation, but Black respondents are much more likely to think that race has a big impact on a person’s long-term financial situation than white or Hispanic/Latinx respondents.

Find the rest of the poll results here, which cover how Americans have been faring financially about six months into the pandemic, race and equity within the workplace and some of the key issues Trump and Biden supporters are concerned about.

What’s going to happen to retailers, especially with the holiday shopping season approaching?

A report out recently from the accounting consultancy BDO USA said 29 big retailers filed for bankruptcy protection through August. And if bankruptcies continue at that pace, the number could rival the bankruptcies of 2010, after the Great Recession. For retailers, the last three months of this year will be even more critical than usual for their survival as they look for some hope around the holidays.

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