• Home
  • |
  • Publications
  • |
  • Postsecondary enrollment during the COVID-19 pandemic: Evidence from Rhode Island

Postsecondary enrollment during the COVID-19 pandemic: Evidence from Rhode Island

The COVID-19 pandemic disrupted nearly every aspect of economic and social life, affecting who went to college and where. This paper asks:

  • How did patterns of enrollment and persistence in college and university change during the pandemic?
  • Which postsecondary sectors were the hardest hit by declining enrollment?
  • Were changes in postsecondary enrollment consistent across student subgroups?

To address these questions, this study followed public school students who graduated from high school between the 2017-2018 and 2020-2021 school years to see how college plans changed.

Key findings:

  • Fewer students overall headed to college during the pandemic, but there were more significant declines among students from lower-income families or who were Black, Hispanic, or male.
  • Community colleges took the biggest hit in numbers, and the pandemic widened the gap in college attendance based on money, race, and gender.
  • Students appear to have made different decisions about where to enroll—changes that vary systemically by their socioeconomic and racial/ethnic backgrounds. 

In these ways, the pandemic threw a wrench in many students’ plans for higher education, with some groups feeling more impact than others. The pandemic proved disruptive to students’ educational trajectories by ushering in substantial losses in the rate at which students transitioned to college or university, leading students to enroll in different kinds of institutions, and widening college-going gaps by socioeconomic status, race, ethnicity, and gender.

Related Publications

Skip to content