Here they come: More than 580 first-years expected to enroll for the fall

Plus, how ideas about K-12 ‘podding’ are reflected in higher-ed plans

Good morning, and happy Thursday. On this pre-pandemic date last year, City Council Members Yolanda Avila and Richard Skorman were hosting an open town hall to discuss issues impacting their respective districts. (Though Colorado Springs City Council members are still holding town halls, these days they’re virtual.)

Today, we walk you through how the pandemic is changing college admissions at Colorado College. Also, we’ll explain how some families are creating “education pods” at home and how the idea of learning in small groups could translate to life at colleges and universities this fall. 

➡️ICYMI: Yesterday, we reported how some Bridge Scholar students banded together to draft a petition after their program was moved online. We also explained how the program is adapting to virtual classes.

Colorado College admissions during COVID-19: increasing gap year requests and virtual recruitment 

Do you have questions about how the pandemic is affecting enrollment numbers at Colorado College? We do, too. That’s why on Monday, CC’s Vice President for Enrollment Mark Hatch joined The CC COVID-19 Reporting Project for a Zoom call to explain how admissions numbers currently look at the college and how the pandemic could have lasting effects on the admissions process.

Colorado College admissions by the numbers

  • 582 first-year students in the class of 2024

Pre-COVID, when life was “normal but still a little crazy” as Hatch puts it, the college decided to try to boost enrollment by 25 students in the incoming class of 2024. The target goal: 570 students in the first-year class, including fall semester and fall semester away students. The college planned the additional 25 students would be from Colorado as part of its Colorado Pledge, a pilot program to make attendance more affordable for in-state families who make up to $200,000 annually.

Then the pandemic hit, and Hatch remembers telling former president Jill Tiefenthaler and former provost Alan Townsend: “I’m tempted to overenroll versus underenroll.”

“If you underenroll it’s a four-year issue for the college, in terms of bodies and revenue and everything else,” Hatch tells The CC COVID-19 Reporting Project.

As of Monday, Colorado College had 582 first-year students in the fall or fall semester category. The college has cancelled this year’s fall semester away in Europe, which is a Colorado College-run program inviting first-year students to study abroad for their first four blocks at CC. Now, they are welcoming all students affected by the cancellation to join the rest of the first-year class on campus.

Additionally, Hatch says 14 international students who were originally slated to come to campus will now study abroad in Beijing and Shanghai with CET, a CC-approved partner program.

  • 74 students plan to take a gap year 

Colorado College was listed No. 18 in a ranking of the “top 35 colleges that support a gap year” by Value Colleges, a website dedicated to answering questions about college. Last year, 64 students, or about 12% of the incoming class, took a gap year, and this year, the number is up to 74, according to Hatch.

“I would expect that we’d get at least 10 more even in the next two weeks,” Hatch says. He added the number of students requesting gap years or semesters has increased in the past month since CC announced its initial plans for fall. 

Some of those students are international students who can’t get their visas, he says, while others are domestic students who want to see if the pandemic will pass. Meanwhile, some students who were originally planning a gap year have watched their programs cancel and are now requesting to come to campus this fall.

“I think we’re going to get students who ... the day before they’re supposed to be here are going to call or email and say, ‘I’m not coming,’” Hatch says. “And our stance will be: we understand that; we want you to be here; and you can have a gap semester or a gap year.”

  • Financial aid budget might increase by as much as 10%

As of November 2019, Colorado College was one of 75 colleges and universities that meet full financial need for full-time students. That need breaks down to an average financial aid award grant of about $50,000, Hatch says. 

But with the pandemic, financial aid numbers are changing. Families now face a recession that some worry could become the “second Great Depression,” with unemployment rates rising to about 20% in cities like Los Angeles and New York City. In a survey of more than 10,000 college students, 56% said they could no longer afford their tuition because of how the pandemic had impacted their financial circumstances. 

Hatch predicts Colorado College’s financial aid budget could increase by as much as 10% this year because of changing family financial circumstances in the pandemic.

“Family circumstances changed overnight with a downturn in the economy,” Hatch says. “Yet we can’t adjust immediately. We often have to tell families to wait six to eight weeks, if they get laid off ... and certainly there’s a combination of what we look at between assets and income.”

  • 70% of every dollar spent at CC is a tuition dollar

If Colorado College were to have a mission statement for enrollment, Hatch says it would look something like this: “We seek to enroll the most talented and most diverse class possible while reaching but not exceeding the enrollment target, and finally, we must meet the ambitious net tuition revenue goals for the college.”

Colorado College is a tuition-dependent institution, and Hatch estimates about 70% of dollars spent at Colorado College is from tuition. 

“If we don’t bring in $24 million of revenue in each incoming class, people don’t get paid,” Hatch says. “Or we don’t get that field trip, or that bus trip or benefits for students in terms of programming in or out of the classroom.”

Currently, the college has met its revenue target, despite being over its budget for financial aid, but he expects the college could end up slightly below the revenue target depending on if the pandemic changes further the current enrollment or aid numbers.

How the pandemic could have long-term effects on college admissions 

Trend #1: Amid the pandemic, some students are electing to stay closer to home when making their college decisions. The University of Texas at Arlington, for example, is seeing commitments from 26% more in-state students than last year, and other universities are seeing similar trends. 

This trend would not necessarily bode well for schools like Colorado College if it were to continue. Last year, only about 16% of enrolled students at CC were from Colorado.

Trend #2: In 2007, birth rates were rising to their highest levels in two decades. After the recession in 2008, the birth rate dropped nearly 2% and continued to decline in 2009, a trend some experts link directly to the recession. This year, some economists are predicting a similar decline in birth rates because of the pandemic. And for higher-ed, this could mean fewer students applying for colleges and universities in future years.

“We’re going to have a precipice in 2025 with 20 to 25% fewer high school seniors out there applying to college,” Hatch says. “And we better prepare for that as an institution.”

Trend #3: After the nightmare that was ACT testing during the pandemic, a growing number of colleges are going test-optional for their admissions process. Colorado College remains largely unaffected by this trend. The college adopted a flexible testing policy in 2010 and announced its decision to go entirely test-optional last year.

Trend #4: When the world went virtual a few months ago, college admissions officers had to get creative with how to recruit students. For Colorado College, this meant developing virtual tours and information sessions, virtual chats with CC students and admissions representatives, a College Bootcamp series, and pivoting to a virtual interview process. Campus remains closed to visitors through at least Block 2, though administrators may extend the policy through Thanksgiving.

“I’ve often thought how crazy it is that we depend so much on the face-to-face recruitment for students near and far,” Hatch says. “And why can’t we make the world smaller with technology?”

Trend #5: Following the “Varsity Blues” college admissions scandal, in which some families were charged with paying millions in exchange for admissions into elite universities, scrutiny on college admissions processes increased. Johns Hopkins University in Maryland ended “legacy admissions,” and the University of Texas at Austin automatically offers admission to Texas students who are in the top 6% of their high school graduating class. The pandemic has widened equity gaps in higher education, and some are calling for schools to take action by redesigning their admissions processes.

How conversations about K-12 education ‘pods’ could inform higher-ed plans for fall 

Two peas in a pod? More like five kids in one. 

With fall approaching, parents are trying to figure out what school will look like for their children. Concerned that remote education isn’t enough, or fearful of sending their kids back to school, some parents are considering creating “pods,” where a hired teacher would teach just a few students at someone’s home. A couple of families would get together to create the pod and agree to only interact with each other to minimize the risk of anyone getting sick. The teacher would either supplement the students’ remote school curriculum or create their own lesson plans. 

These pods aren’t without criticism, including some who say podding systems are only available to wealthy children, which could further disadvantage low-income students. It could leave behind students who rely on extra in-person support at school and aren’t able to access resources remotely or afford to pay for a podding system or hired teacher. 

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention suggests K-12 administrators consider using “cohorting” or “pods,” where a group of students and possibly teachers stay together for the entire school day. The CDC’s guidance also says using cohorts may be easier with elementary school students than with middle or high schoolers, but suggests block scheduling or keeping students separated by grade level to minimize interactions. 

In pod we trust? How this grouping system could make its way into higher-ed

We’ve already seen an unofficial “podding” system at Colorado College in the new “flex” classes. Students can choose whether they’d like to complete certain class assignments in-person or remotely. The students participating in the in-person course elements could, in a sense, create a small education pod for the block. 

The one-class-at-a-time Block Plan also creates unofficial pods of students who attend class together and sometimes also dine and study together during those three and a-half weeks. Some students at CC also live in Living and Learning Communities, wings in large residence halls with dedicated living rooms and kitchens for students with shared interests or identities. However in pre-COVID times, none of these options would be true pods because the students could still interact with anyone else. 

Other colleges have been more explicit in creating pods. At Sterling College in Vermont, students live in groups of 7-18, and they will eat, sleep, and learn in “self-contained” Living and Learning Pods. At the University of South Carolina, students in the Preston Residential College either live in suite-style or pod-style rooms. The Preston pods have three double bedrooms with private bathrooms, and those six people share a refrigerator and a private living space. The University of Kentucky is considering creating pods where students would live and eat together, and professors would either come to them or teach remotely. 

About the CC COVID-19 Reporting Project

The CC COVID-19 Reporting Project is a student-faculty collaboration by Colorado College student journalists Miriam Brown and Arielle Gordon, Journalism Institute Director Steven Hayward, Visiting Assistant Professor of Journalism Corey Hutchins, and Assistant Professor of English Najnin Islam. Work by Phoebe Lostroh, Associate Professor of Molecular Biology at CC and National Science Foundation Program Director in Genetic Mechanisms, Molecular and Cellular Biosciences, will appear from time to time, as will infographics by Colorado College students Rana Abdu, Aleesa Chua, Sara Dixon, Jia Mei, and Lindsey Smith.

The project seeks to provide frequent updates about CC and other higher education institutions during the pandemic by providing original reporting, analysis, interviews with campus leaders, and context about what state and national headlines mean for the CC community. 

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