COVID-19 Derails 2022 Post-Secondary Education and Professional Training for Tens of Millions of Adults
Our analysis of 2022 Census Bureau data shows the pandemic derailed continuing education plans for millions of students from colleges, universities, community colleges, trade schools and other post-secondary institutions.
- 73% of U.S. students (more than 37.8 million adults) have either cancelled or changed their spring 2022 education plans because of COVID-19. This includes plans for college, university, community college, trade school or other occupational school (such as a cosmetology school or a school of culinary arts).
- More than 16% of students (8.5 million adults) have cancelled their 2022 continuing education plans outright.
Enrollment in U.S. post-secondary education has been on a slight but steady decline over the past decade, falling 6.6% since 2010. A variety of reasons are to blame, including skyrocketing tuition costs, more attractive workforce opportunities, and even declining birthrates.
Adding to the downward trend is the COVID-19 pandemic, which has further contributed to plummeting enrollment rates and led millions more students to alter their education plans.
Nationwide, more than 73% of students in colleges, universities, vocational schools, license and certificate programs and other forms of post-secondary education have either cancelled or altered their plans to take classes in the spring of 2022 due to COVID-19. That’s according to the U.S. Census Bureau’s latest Household Pulse Survey that collected data between January 26 and February 7.
"First, we must make sure our students thrive during, and as we recover from, the pandemic. Safely reopening schools is the baseline, but it's not good enough. We must make up for lost time." – Miguel Cardona, U.S. Secretary of Education1
57% of the nearly 52 million students represented by the survey reported that they are still pursuing their spring education plans but that those plans have changed. 16% of students (8.5 million people) have cancelled their spring education plans entirely, with another 6.5 million taking fewer classes than they initially intended.
The reasons given for the interruptions varied but were all rooted in the pandemic. Those included:
- A COVID-19 diagnosis or a fear of contracting the virus
- Needing to care for someone with COVID-19
- Needing to care for someone whose previous care arrangements were disrupted
- The institution changed the content or format of classes
- Changes to campus life
- Changes to financial aid or the inability to pay for schooling because of pandemic-related income loss
- General uncertainty about changes to classes or programs
More than 8.4 million students reported all plans to take classes in the spring have been cancelled entirely, which accounts for 16.3% of all those represented in the survey. That may include cancellation by the students themselves or cancellations on behalf of the institution.
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In Washington D.C., 38% of students have cancelled their spring education plans. D.C. joins eight states where the rate of cancellation was above 20%:
- New Mexico
While California’s cancellation rate of 17.3% is only slightly above the national average, the 1.4 million students in the state who have cancelled their spring education and professional certification plans is by far the highest number in the U.S. and is more than twice as many as the next-highest state (Texas).
On the other side of the spectrum, just 7.9% of Idaho students have cancelled their spring education plans. Fewer than 10% of students and workers in Delaware, Iowa, North Dakota and Oklahoma cancelled their spring professional development or education plans.
More than 37.8 million students nationwide have either cancelled or altered their spring 2022 education plans because of COVID-19.
- California tops the nation at 93.8%, with more than 7.8 million students having their plans cancelled or changed.
- California is followed closely by Alaska at 92.8%.
- Washington D.C., Michigan and Hawaii each reported rates of at least 84%.
- A dozen states had rates higher than the national average of 73%.
South Dakota, Kentucky, Iowa and Arkansas were the only states to have combined rates of altered or cancelled education plans below 50%.
Declining education rates at the post-secondary level may have damaging economic effects in the future.
Adults without education beyond high school typically pay less in taxes, are more likely to live in poverty and need government assistance and are less likely to be employed; all things that can dampen the economy.
Declining education rates can also further squeeze labor shortages in critical areas like teaching and skilled trades. Continued education and professional training are also tied to certain positive health outcomes such as a longer lifespan.
U.S. Secretary of Education Miguel Cardona acknowledged the drastic impacts COVID-19 has had on American education.1
"Missed instruction has affected millions of students — we must ensure that these students receive the most resources and supports," said Secretary Cardona. "And I want to be very clear: as educators and leaders, we're either closing educational opportunity gaps or making them worse with the decisions we make in the coming months and years. Our students' success is at stake. Not just the students we serve today, but also those who have yet to be born."
Two years into the pandemic, COVID-19 continues to affect the education plans of millions of U.S. students in colleges, universities, vocational schools, license and certificate programs and other post-secondary institutions of learning. Shortages or delays in qualified workers may have damaging effects on the future economy.
The data used for this report came from the U.S. Census Bureau’s Household Pulse Survey, specifically Week 42 (Jan. 26 – Feb. 7, 2022).
1 U.S. Department of Education. (Jan. 27, 2022). Secretary Cardona's Vision for Education in America [speech]. https://www.ed.gov/news/speeches/priorities-speech.