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Community colleges may not be the answer for university students

The pandemic seemingly provides an opportunity for community colleges to boost enrollment. While university students evaluate their options, community colleges dangle the chance to stay home, earn credits and save cash. It sounds like a good deal. But the decision to wait out COVID-19 at the local community college could come with some pretty stiff consequences.

Harvard University reports that 1 in 5 members of the incoming freshman class will defer their admission for a year. MIT reports that 1 in 12 of its newly admitted freshmen will ride out the pandemic at home. But staying home could mean forfeiting scholarships or other financial aid. It could mean having one’s admission offer rescinded. It could also mean having to re-apply for admission next fall – especially if a student registers for classes elsewhere.

Many colleges and universities offer deferred enrollment under certain circumstances. However, they often forbid students from enrolling at a different institution during their deferral. Students who enroll at community colleges could find themselves on the outside looking in next fall. Instead of having secured a spot in the next incoming class, a student may have to re-apply as a transfer student. If the community college does not have an articulation agreement on file with the student’s intended university, the university may not accept any credits the student earned while studying at home. Essentially, the student wasted an entire year completing classes that won’t transfer.

Community colleges could cost students financial aid, Pell grant eligibility

It can get worse for the student. If the university offered the student a financial aid package, the university will withdraw the financial aid offer. The student may also forfeit any scholarships or grants included in the package. For students who qualify for Pell grants, a semester or two at a local community college will burn some of the student’s lifetime eligibility. When the student transfers to a four-year institution, that could leave the student short on funds needed to complete a degree.

While four-year institutions typically cap the number of deferrals they’ll grant in one year, they’ve relaxed these limits because of the pandemic. But deferring admission to the Class of 2024 may also cause problems for the Class of 2025. Universities typically have a limited number of seats available for any given incoming class. When a student seeks to defer admission by a year, that reduces the number of seats available in the following year. In Harvard’s case, about 2% of the admitted class typically defers admission. Harvard can easily accommodate a change of plans for 2% of the freshman class. When 20% of the class wants to save a seat for later, it can cause a real problem.

Attending a community college has its upside, but it can also create a real headache (and a heartache) for students who planned to go to a four-year institution right out of high school. As a concession to the pandemic, Washtenaw Community College should make certain that students who had been admitted elsewhere understand the potential impact on their 2021 college plans of taking classes at WCC. WCC should also remember that what’s good for WCC isn’t always good for the students.

Photo Credit: COD Newsroom, via Flickr