Big State Schools’ Potential ‘COVID-19 Tsunami’ Nightmare

Aside from all of the death, economic woes, and educational dislocation that mandatory isolation is causing billions of people, world-wide, during the Novel Coronavirus (COVID-19) global pandemic, one darker scenario shared by an admissions friend of ours, in one of the Florida state schools that was confirmed by another in Indiana, and one in Arizona, is important, either if you have already signed up for a state school, or are thinking of doing so during the “haggling month” of April, when you can negotiate with colleges.

One bit of pending worry in this year’s admissions systems for the larger state schools is that COVID-19 will create something of a “tsunami” in their systems.

The Tsunami Scenario

All schools admit more students than will come to them. It’s a process based more on computer modeling than admission director intuition, these days.

To avoid upsetting fans of so many big state universities, and to protect our sources, let’s use a totally fictional Super-Sized State University (SSSU). It’s a big one, with more than 70,000 undergrads on campus, currently. It estimates that it will admit about 17,500 students to the class of 2020.

To meet their admissions goals ALL SCHOOLS accept more than the exact number of students that they need. It is set, usually, by their directors using computer modeling systems that give them projections, based on past admissions, using forecasts of the kinds of cohorts they are losing, not just the majors, and minor, but the diversity requirements of all kinds, and keeping all of the niches, from the rock-hounds, to the rocket team, to the quilting club, to the Quiddich team, active on their campus.

Many applicants use these schools as a “backup” or a “safety.” Modeling will deal with that issue, and provide the admissions team a reasonable number, which they then can accept, or alter. Most students who apply, and are admitted, usually will not come to school there.

SSSU, like most of the schools with over 20,000 undergrads, has learned how to make do. They stay within the lane of their admissions patterns.

In the Tsnami Scenario, though, because of the exceptional situation that global isolation in the COVID-19 pandemic has caused, more parents and/or students are concerned about going farther away from home.

Another huge factor is that over 3 million Americans just filed for unemployment, and millions more are unemployed, or small businesspeople temporarily with no business.

It would be natural to assume, if they have a freshman for the class of 2024, that they have their state’s “free” educational program to fall back on. These families all panic, and pull the trigger to attend SSSU solely on that basis.

Now, instead of admitting 17,500, they admit 22,000.

Many of SSSU’s facilities are already at capacity, or, in a few cases beyond it. Most states have not been building enough infrastructure to keep up with the rapid expansion of college educational opportunities afforded by the Lottery-subsidized tuition assistance, or scholarship programs.

How does SSSU, already full, now with 3,000 extra students to whom they’ve promised a spot, but assumed were NOT matriculating:

  • Educate them?
  • House them?
  • Feed them?
  • Provide equal opportunities to all?

The Virtual Ed Ghetto

One potential solution to a rapidly expansive student population is to force a large percentage of the overage of students into virtual education.

Some super-sized schools already have developed bleed-off programs which require admitted students to attend at least their first two years off-campus, in virtual education. Normal attrition, of transfers, drop-outs, etc. usually allow the virtual students to get through general education, and then move into a more traditional setting in their majors.

What happens, though, if schools are forced to put some, or all, of their students, based on this pandemic, into four years, not two, of virtual education?

If they go that route, who ends up there? Students with particular GPA? Based on how they were admitted?

Why On-Campus, Traditional Education is Super-Important

Undergraduate education, though, is not trade school. A huge component of the education is:

  • Socialization with other young people, out on their own for the first time;
  • Socialization with adult faculty where students learn to become part of the adult spaces of research, applied thought, and assume their role as part of the system which expands expertise and knowledge in hundreds of fields vital to the growth of a modern global economy.
  • Education where human interaction, peer-to-peer, both inside, and outside of the classroom, is a large component of the learning process that virtual has yet to fully replicate.

If you already committed to a two-year virtual school, or program, within a university, it might be good to find out if any of the parameters of your educational experience will be changed by the university, due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Consequences of Super-Sized Classes

All over-admission creates temporary, to long-term changes in all campus services, and programs. It’s more magnified at the larger state schools because their size, already was quite large. At any school, an over-admit can create challenges in everything from:

  • Housing shortages;
  • Faculty/class shortages, or delays;
  • Access limited to specific classes;
  • Reduced access to study-abroad, research, and internship opportunities;
  • Fewer available campus, and surrounding area part-time jobs, market dependent;
  • Getting the time and attention of the professors;
  • Access to campus events, sports, and food services;
  • Increased use of “Career Guidance” professionals, not professors, for post-college planning, that lacks a lot of the peer-to-peer professor “mafia” connectivity of students to graduate programs, and/or career paths, that students who attend hundreds of smaller colleges enjoy.

Inquire, Class of 2020

They’re all hoping that this does not come to pass, but many, with common sense, recognize that the flaw in the over-admit model HAS, in past years, seen small surges of 15-20% over estimates, which has caused problems in all colleges, and universities where they have to absorb more people than they have facilities.

  • How is your SSSU going to handle a potential overadmit?
  • What is their policy?
  • If they don’t have a policy, who is considering what to do, and when can you expect to hear about one?

Inquire, Class of 2021-2024

Whenever a school over-admits, whether it is in a particular cohort, or overall, for a class year, they have to get their numbers down to normal; to equalize. That can mean, depending upon how they do their forecasting:

  • Cropping back slightly in their acceptance numbers over a number of years;
  • Making a more severe cut into the class of the following year;
  • Staying larger, and building up, slowly, more infrastructure to deal with increase in size.

Alternatives to Panic/Tsunami

If you have not yet accepted a school, you still have lots of choices. Students who pull out early, already happening, may free up scholarship money set aside for students who were higher-up on the desirability index of the college than you were.

Stick with the haggling process.

You have four weeks, from April 1, to May 1, to make a decision. No one is going to take your admit away from you until May 1.

In some schools, they are pushing back to June 1st. That tends to benefit the school, which hopes that the economy, and jobs will stabilize better, as people adjust, and things calm down. If ANY OF YOUR SCHOOLS stay on May 1, please tell the June 1st college that you will need to make a decision by May 1, and that they need to work with you on that basis.

Know what the SSSUs that you’ve been admitted to will do about their potential over-admissions, now, and for the next few years. Find out when they plan to start school, for 2020, and what will happen if we’re still in quarantine conditions in August-September?

Make informed, not fearful, decisions, based on facts, not suppositions, or assumptions.

Keep calm. Negotiate on.

You have this!