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Title:Illinois Higher Education Enrollments During Recessions
Author(s):Fretwell Wilson, Robin; Merriman, David F.; Delaney, Jennifer
fiscal, covid
Abstract:National research in the U.S. has shown that postsecondary enrollments are known to be impacted by economic downturns. During the Great Recession (between fall 2007 and fall 2010) total enrollment increased from 18.2 million to 21 million. These enrollment increases include both traditional and non-traditional aged students. In a research paper that examines the impact of the business cycle on enrollments and finances at community colleges, Betts & McFarland (1995) find that a 1% increase in the unemployment rate of recent high school graduates is associated with a 0.5% increase in full-time attendance at community colleges. Likewise, a 1% increase in the unemployment rate of all adults is associated with a 4% increase in full-time community college attendance. These findings show that all students are impacted by economic downturns, but older adult students are impacted most strongly during recessions. Unfortunately, it is difficult to generalize from past experience to the present situation. This recession may be different from those of the recent past for several important reasons: 1. Health concerns may deter some students from enrolling. Without vaccine or effective therapeutics to fight corona virus many potential students may feel that, at least in the short term, it is unsafe to venture much beyond the walls of their homes. Because of this, some may be reluctant to enroll in universities that could require them to attend physical classes. On the other hand, some potential students may see the increasing presence of on-line education as an opportunity to make effective use of their time when movement is constrained. 2. Online education could change enrollment patterns. Throughout higher education, there has been a very rapid pivot toward on-line education in Illinois and across the nation. As mentioned above, this could encourage some students to enroll but it may also deter some students who recognize that they are ill-suited for on-line learning. Students that would have attended public higher education institutions in the absence of the stay-at-home orders may also choose to enroll at lower priced community colleges if their only option is to take on-line courses. Likewise, the extent of on-line offerings in the for-profits may encourage additional enrollments in that sector. 3. Federal government policy, especially liberalized rules with respect to collecting unemployment benefits and repayment of student debt could influence enrollment decisions in difficult to predict ways. Recent federal government legislation has increased payment for some workers’ unemployment benefits, extended the period during which those benefits can be claimed, reduced job search documentation in many cases, and eased requirements for repayment of some student debt. All these changes could influence students’ willingness to enroll in higher education. Higher unemployment benefits reduce the opportunity cost of being unemployed but also increases funds to defray the cost of education. In the past, enrolling in higher education could render an individual ineligible to collect unemployment benefits since one had to be “available for work” to collect these benefits. Whether this will still be the case in the current recession is unclear. If individuals are taking on-line classes with flexible hours, they may be available to work despite their enrollment status. Also, because the requirement that individuals must search for work while unemployed has been liberalized unemployed individuals may have more available time to enroll in higher education.
Issue Date:2020-04-30
Publisher:Institute of Government & Public Affairs
Date Available in IDEALS:2021-07-23

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