Covid has affected all of our lives in one way or another, and college students are no exception. College student enrollment has dropped more than 25% as of spring of 2021 as a direct result of Covid, and when you think about why students are dropping out of college because of Covid, it really is no surprise whatsoever.

Families are Unable to Cover the Costs of College

One of the leading reasons students drop out of higher education because of Covid is because of the financial hardships that Covid has caused on families all across the globe. 


Not everyone was deemed an essential employee during the pandemic, causing many families to face financial hardships due to Covid. Being laid off during the Covid pandemic is the leading cause of Covid-related financial hardships. Parents or the students themselves must pay for higher ed that is not covered by financial aid or scholarships.


An estimated 86% of students enrolled in college receive financial aid. Financial aid helps pay for some of the tuition costs of college, but it is up to the student to pay for the remainder of the tuition, including the cost of books, housing, or other requirements that the financial aid may not cover.


Students and their families impacted by Covid cannot cover the steep costs of being enrolled in college, causing them to drop out of college to pursue other options. 

In-Person Options are Limited for Students

For those who can afford college during the pandemic, the in-person experience likely looks different than it should. This has caused many students to drop out of college because of Covid. Classes have limited in-person classes and have shifted to online classes or remote learning. The CDC has indicated that high school-aged students and younger are safer to return to in-person learning without as many health risks due to Covid, but adults age 18 and over are more susceptible to greater Covid-related health risks. This has slowed the return of in-person learning for college students which has caused many college students to drop out. 

How Remote and Online Classes Work

Classes offered online typically include a pre-recorded video that the instructor has recorded before the class that covers the material being taught that day. The instructor may occasionally host these classes live so that students can interact with the instructor during the class, but the lessons are often pre-recorded.


Some online classes allow students to attend at a time convenient for them, while other instructors require students to attend at an assigned time. 


Remote classes are similar to online classes. While the class is online, remote classes also require that the students “attend” each class during its set time. Remote classes are offered through an online meeting platform like Microsoft Teams or Zoom. 

Issues with Internet Access

To participate in online or remote classes, the student needs internet access. This can be difficult to achieve, especially during Covid, when many families struggle to make ends meet to pay for necessities. Additionally, high-speed internet is not offered in all areas of the country, especially in rural areas. This makes it difficult for a college student to learn the materials at home since the internet is required to “attend” the class and access the course discussions and materials.

On-going Cycle of Dropouts and Remote Classes 

In-person learning and students dropping out is a catch 22. With limited or no in-person classes, student enrollment has declined and dropout rates have increased. With lesser students enrolled, there is a lesser need for in-person classes, so the cycle continues semester-to-semester. 

Students Aren’t Getting What They’re Paying For 

Many students feel that they’re not getting their money’s worth when it comes to online classes. Paying tuition to attend classes in person is more than just sitting in a classroom twice a week. It’s access to the various resources and accommodations that are offered on-campus, like the library, fitness center, and student center. Covid has caused many of these communal areas to close during the pandemic. 


Students are paying tuition for an experience that they’re not getting, and students are dropping out of college because of this. 

Online or Remote Classes Cause Students to Become Distracted and Perform Poorly

Another reason that students are dropping out of college is that they have performed poorly during the pandemic. Online classes and remote learning do not hold students’ attention as well as in-person classes do. 


With online or remote classes, students lose the structure that the classroom environment offers, causing them to easily walk away from the computer and do something else at home. It’s easier to walk away from a computer at home than it is in a classroom. 


Being absent from the classroom, even in a virtual setting, can cause major implications to a student’s performance in the class, and it’s easy for those implications to snowball.

Students Risk Being Placed on Academic Probation

Performing poorly in a class can cause a student to go on academic probation. When a student’s GPA falls below a certain threshold, the college or university may place the student on academic probation as a warning that the student needs to improve his or her GPA to continue receiving scholarship funds. 


At the most extreme level of academic probation, the student can be suspended from enrollment if his or her GPA doesn’t improve. 


Being placed on academic probation is a slippery slope. It can be difficult for a poorly-performing student to get back on track when the classroom conditions plan to stay the same in the following semester. For example, let’s say a student performed poorly in remote classes this semester that caused their grade point average to drop; however, the only option they have for learning next semester is remote or online classes. This may cause the student to drop out of college before the new semester begins so that they don’t fail the classes and cause the school to suspend the student because of their grades. 

Low-Income Students Who Commute are Hit the Hardest from Covid

Families that were already behind the 8-ball when attending college are at an even higher disadvantage because of Covid. 


Now that colleges are delaying in-person learning, students are required to attend classes online, and they need the internet to do so. 


There are many free wireless internet options when learners go on campus, making high-speed internet at home unnecessary. But now that Covid has put a halt to in-person learning, high-speed residential internet is a must, and some students are suffering from that. 


While low-income college students often receive financial aid grants to help cover the costs of college, this doesn’t help when a pandemic hits. Many low-income students feel pressured to get a job to help their family make ends meet, causing them to drop out of college and get a job instead. This is just another reason that students have dropped out of college because of Covid.

Family Members Lose Jobs Causing College Students to Go to Work

The Covid pandemic has caused an estimated 114 million people worldwide to lose their job. With so many people out of work, financial burdens quickly mounted for families. Many college students have chosen to help their struggling families by dropping out of college and going to work, especially since college was just one more financial responsibility for the family to take care of. 


Students who drop out of college rarely go back. Only about 10% to 15% of college dropouts actually go back to college. Add in the percentage of students who have dropped out of college to join the workforce, and the odds are stacked against them that they will ever re-enroll in college.

Students are Delaying Graduation and Taking Immediate Jobs

There’s no way around it. The pandemic job market is not what we’re used to. Businesses have closed and jobs aren’t paying as much as they were before the pandemic when they are open. This has caused college students who are perhaps just one semester away from graduating to delay graduation until a time when the job market returns closer to normal. 


Instead of being able to both work and go to college, many college students are choosing to work now to pay for immediate living expenses, like rent, utilities, and a car payment. Because of this, students are dropping out of college to delay graduating, even when they are just one semester away from graduating, simply because they can’t afford to do both. 

Students Use College Credits to Their Advantage

Education or experience? That is what many employers ask themselves when they hire new employees to fill open positions, and students have taken advantage of this during the Covid pandemic. 


Many students use the college experience that they have gained to their advantage. While they may not have their college degree on paper, they have completed many college classes that they can use to their advantage. 


Some employers have lowered their education requirements to obtain employees who currently have experience related to the open position. Many students drop out of college during the Covid pandemic to make money to help make ends meet or to get a jump start on entering their field. 

Four-Year College Students Transfer to Two-Year Technical Schools or Community Colleges

Students who have been in college for two years or less drop out of their four-year college and enroll in two-year technical schools. They do this to get a two-year associate’s degree instead of a four-year bachelor’s degree to streamline their graduation process or save money on tuition costs.


Tuition costs to two-year technical schools can be significantly lower than four-year colleges. This option has caused students to transfer from their four-year college to a two-year technical school. 


While the students who choose to leave their four-year college aren’t technically dropping out, they are still leaving the four-year college they enrolled in so that they can pursue something different. Dropping out and transferring both contribute to the total number of students that have unenrolled from the school. This causes the enrollment number for the college to decrease.


Students who transfer to two-year technical schools save money and graduate earlier than if they were enrolled in a four-year college, but don’t be confused. Earning an associate’s degree from a two-year college is not equivalent to earning a bachelor’s degree from a four-year college. 

Students Who Drop Out of College Often Don’t Go Back

The final point to keep in mind about students who drop out of college because of Covid is that the majority of them never go back. Only about 15% of students who drop out of college ever go back. This number is significantly lower when students are dropping out of community colleges as opposed to four-year colleges or universities. That’s because community colleges and vocational schools don’t have the same outreach resources that four-year colleges and universities have. Meaning, when a student drops out of a vocational school or community college, the college is likely not going to reach out to the student to re-enroll the way a four-year college or university would. 


This means that students who drop out of college because of Covid will likely stay out of college and never re-enroll. 

Final Thoughts

Students began dropping out of college because of Covid during the spring semester of 2020, and un-enrollment has continued since then. While in-person learning has slowly begun to come back, there are still activities and extracurriculars that college students aren’t getting to participate in because of Covid restrictions. This means that college students aren’t getting the experience that they are paying for. 


Combining the limited college experience with the immediate financial needs that students are experiencing has caused so many students to drop out of college because of Covid.