How COVID Affected Less Selective Private Colleges

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According to a new report from the TIAA Institute, the coronavirus pandemic did not disproportionately harm the outcomes of underrepresented racial minority students at a small number of less selective private colleges, and those colleges fared better than doom-and-gloom narratives suggest.

Looking at 152 “access-oriented private nonprofit colleges”—or colleges that are not highly selective and whose students have a wide range of test scores—the TIAA Institute found that “first-year full-time undergraduate enrollments declined on average in the 2020–21 academic year … but declines were less steep” for underrepresented racial minority students.

The report indicated that “proportions of [underrepresented minority] students in their student bodies actually grew, although the numbers of such students declined” over all. Also, the retention rate for first-year students in 2020–21 was up compared to 2019–20. However, the study noted that “data limitations precluded examining retention rates” for underrepresented minorities.

Other findings from the report include:

  • A minority of the 152 colleges examined adopted “fully or primarily online instruction” in 2020–21, with 22 percent doing so in fall 2020 and 35 percent following in spring 2021.
  • Forty-five percent of colleges in the study introduced some type of vaccine mandate for students in fall 2021, though non-Catholic Christian colleges and states under Republican control of the governorship and Legislature were less likely to introduce a campus vaccine mandate.
  • Sixteen percent of colleges in the study reduced or froze tuition for the 2020–21 school year.

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