The COVID-19 pandemic has now claimed over 450 thousand lives in the United States and over 2 million globally.
To make matters worse, millions of Americans have lost their jobs, making it difficult to pay for basic living expenses, much less rent, mortgage payments, and college tuition.
Our January study took a look at how the COVID-19 pandemic affected students’ learning, mental health, and social lives. We next wanted to figure out how the pandemic has affected students’ and their families’ ability to pay for college and what changes they have had to make to do so.
To learn more, we surveyed 1,000 college students in the U.S., asking them questions about if they’re having trouble paying for college, if they’re worried about covering future costs, and what they have done to pay tuition bills on time.
In this study:
- 71% of students are worried about covering the costs of college for this spring semester and the 2021-22 academic year.
- Nearly 1 in 2 students has lost a job and/or had a parent lose a job that was necessary to pay for college.
- To help pay for college during the COVID-19 pandemic, students:
- Took on a job/another job (40%)
- Took on more student debt than expected (32%)
- Used a credit card (26%)
- Moved back home while taking classes online (23%)
- To help pay for college during the COVID-19 pandemic, parents and guardians:
- Took on a job/another job (24%)
- Tapped into retirement savings (23%)
- Tapped into savings meant for something besides school or retirement (30%)
- Used a credit card (26%)
- Took on more parent student loans than expected (22%)
- 70% of students wish they took a gap gear instead of going to college during the pandemic.
- 68% of students think college costs are too high given their current learning environments and restrictions due to COVID-19.
Results & Analysis
71% of students worried about covering the costs of college this spring & next year
As mentioned in the intro, the COVID-19 pandemic has had a drastic impact on the economy including millions of people losing their jobs. Given this, we were curious if students and their families were worried about covering expenses for this spring semester as well as the 2021-22 academic year.
The results are similar for both this spring semester and next academic year, with 71% of students saying they are worried about covering college costs–which now average around $25k to $54k depending on the type of school.
Paying for college is already difficult enough without a havoc-wreaking pandemic going on. With countless people having their income reduced or wiped out completely, it has gotten even harder.
This may be a large part of the reason why 74% and 69% of students from our January study considered taking off the spring semester and 2021-22 academic year off, respectively.
Nearly 1 in 2 students has lost a job and/or had a parent lose a job that was necessary to pay for college
Given the mass layoffs and furloughs that have occurred over the past 11 months, we wanted to figure out how many of our respondents were affected.
As shown, just under half of respondents indicated that they either lost a job (22%), their parents or guardians lost a job (17%), or both (9%).
If these job losses occurred mid-semester, students can apply to have their financial aid package reconsidered via a professional judgment, but receiving more aid is not guaranteed, possibly leaving many students unable to pay for college.
40% of student working a job or extra job to help cover costs, while 32% taking on more student debt than expected
With so many students and families facing financial hardship, what are they doing to pay for college during this difficult time? That’s what our next set of questions asked.
First, we asked students what they are specifically doing:
As shown in the chart above, over 90% of students have had to do something to help pay for college during the pandemic.
Two out of five students have had to take on a job or an extra job to help pay for college during the pandemic, while nearly one in three has had to take on more student loan debt than expected.
Student debt is notoriously difficult to pay off. Taking on more of it may cause long-term trouble for students, especially for seniors who will be graduating and entering a poor job market in just a few months.
Another concerning statistic is that over a quarter of students, 26%, are using credit cards to pay for college costs. While federal student loans currently have interest rates of 2.75% to 5.30%, the average rate on credit cards is 14.65%. Paying for tuition and other college costs via a credit card can lead to a debt spiral that is difficult to get out of.
Many students are also applying for extra scholarships (31%), moving back home while taking classes online (23%), and transferring to more affordable colleges (15%).
30% of parents are tapping into savings to help pay for college, while 24% are taking on a job or extra job
Parents and guardians have also been doing things to help cover their children’s college costs during the COVID-19 pandemic.
A considerable portion of parents and guardians are tapping into savings meant for retirement (23%) and savings for things other than retirement and education (30%) so their children can continue to attend college—possibly delaying their retirements or other plans for the future such as buying a new house or car.
Many are also taking on credit card debt (26%), taking on a job or extra job (24%), taking on more parent student debt than expected (22%), using home equity (14%), and moving into a cheaper house or apartment (13%).
70% of students wish they took a gap year instead of going to college during pandemic
One of our survey questions revealed that 68% of students think college costs are too high right now given their current learning environments and restrictions due to COVID-19. We also asked students if they wish they had taken a gap year instead of paying for college during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Given the apparent financial hardship caused by trying to pay for college during the COVID-19 pandemic, it’s not surprising that the majority of students wish they took a gap year.
Aside from the difficulty paying for college during this time, our January study showed that most students’ learning abilities, mental health, and social lives have suffered during the pandemic.
While it has been a tough time for most people in our nation over the past 11 months, students arguably have had it worse than most as they’ve tried to figure out how to handle tens of thousands of dollars in costs for a lackluster college experience that will likely impact them financially for years to come.
How has your ability to pay for college changed during the COVID-19 pandemic?
- It is much better – 8.2%
- It is somewhat better –9.6%
- It is about the same – 38.8%
- It is somewhat worse – 26.0%
- It is much worse –17.4%
Have you personally (not your parent/guardian) had to do any of the following to help pay for college because of the COVID-19 pandemic?
- Take on more student loan debt than expected – 31.8%
- Take on a job or extra job – 40.0%
- Apply for extra scholarships – 30.5%
- Use a credit card to pay for college expenses – 25.5%
- Transfer to a more affordable college or university – 15.2%
- Move back home while taking classes online – 23.4%
- Take a semester or year off – 17.9%
- Tap into retirement savings – 12.3%
- Tap into other savings meant for something else besides school or retirement – 18.3%
- Delay making payments for college expenses – 17.5%
- None of the above – 9.3%
Have your parent(s) or guardian(s) had to do any of the following to help pay for college because of the COVID-19 pandemic?
- Tap into retirement savings – 22.9%
- Tap into other savings meant for something else besides school or retirement – 30.2%
- Take on more parent student loans than expected – 21.9%
- Use a credit card to pay for college expenses – 26.4%
- Use home equity to pay for college expenses – 13.8%
- Take on a job or extra job – 23.5%
- Move into a cheaper house or apartment – 12.5%
- Delay making payments for college expenses – 20.7%
- None of the above/they don’t help pay – 18.4%
Have you or your parent/guardian lost a job that was necessary to pay for college due to the COVID-19 pandemic?
- Yes, I have lost a job – 22.2%
- Yes, my parent/guardian has lost a job – 17.2%
- Yes, we have both lost jobs – 8.7%
- No – 51.9%
Do you wish you would have taken a gap year instead of paying for college during the 2020-21 academic year?
- Yes – 32.1%
- Somewhat – 37.6%
- No – 30.3%
Are you worried about you or your family covering college costs for this spring semester?
- Yes, very worried – 29.7%
- Yes, somewhat worried – 41.4%
- No, not worried – 28.9%
Are you worried about you or your family covering college costs for the 2021-22 academic year?
- Yes, very worried – 31.7%
- Yes, somewhat worried – 39.2%
- No, not worried – 29.1%
Do you think your college costs are too high given your current learning environment and restrictions due to COVID-19?
- Yes, I think the costs are too high – 68.0%
- No, I think college costs are fair – 21.0%
- Unsure – 11.0%
All data in this report come from a survey commissioned by Intelligent and ran by Pollfish from January 6, 2021, to January 7, 2021. In total, 1,000 students in the United States were surveyed. A screener question was used to ensure all respondents were current college students.