Absorbing the COVID impact: How enrollment and financial aid are changing under the pandemic

Members of the Class of 2024 had to decide whether or not to buy into a very different Lafayette than the one they applied. Between online midterms, keeping track of assignments on Moodle, and being introduced to peers through breakout rooms instead of in Farinon, attending the “Zoom University” at Lafayette College has not quite been the typical liberal arts experience students bargained for.

Despite this, enrollment at the college reached an all-time high in May prior to the add/drop period deadline, according to Greg MacDonald, Vice President for Enrollment Management.

“With the class of 2024 confirming their enrollment decisions in May, it brought total enrollment to 2703, the highest in history of the college. Current enrollment stands just under 2500, as of the end of the drop/add period in September,” MacDonald wrote in an email.

He noted that Lafayette’s newest class stood at 715 in May, but was reduced to 606 by September. Eighty-two first-year students requested to defer their admission, and half intend to begin their time at Lafayette this spring.

The sophomore class saw a seven percent decline in enrollment, and the junior and senior class declined just under four percent,” MacDonald added. 

With enrollment numbers lower than usual for the Office of Admissions, another set of challenges faced the neighboring Office of Financial Aid.

“I don’t think people realize…we have actually had to repackage financial aid five times now because of the changes in our plans,” Forrest Stuart, Vice President of Financial Aid, said. “Right now we are just very manual with it…it’s pretty tedious because right now we have to look at each student’s record and treat fall separately from spring, where typically financial aid works on academic year…you are touching records two or three times just because of all the detail. So, we are looking at over three thousand instances of changing records manually.” 

The catalyst for these adjustments is the change in tuition rates as the college has continued to adjust plans for Fall 2020, Stuart explained. Financial aid is calculated by subtracting students’ Expected Family Contribution (EFC) from the cost of attendance, which has been reduced by 10 percent for those learning remotely, thus impacting the amount of financial aid received by some families.

For the time being, the Office of Financial Aid has not seen many students filing to have their aid packages reconsidered. However, the picture could look vastly different in the spring semester should the virus continue to forward economic ruin, Stuart said. 

Despite this change and potential financial hardship the college may come to face in the new year, Stuart said the college remains committed to meeting 100 percent of the demonstrated need for enrolled students.

While he said he shares concerns for the school’s loss of revenue during the pandemic, he praised preemptive budgeting strategies like salary cuts and changes to employee retirement plans for putting the college “in a better position to absorb what happens in the spring.” 

Despite the stresses created by COVID, both Stuart and MacDonald were quick to compliment their coworkers and express faith in the community at large.

“We have learned a lot about each office, and we have learned where there are holes in our communication. One of the good things that will come out of this is we will be a much more efficient institution in how we work with different offices, in how we exchange data and how we maybe rebuild our systems” said Stuart.

“While this is certainly a challenging situation in which to manage enrollment, I feel very fortunate to be doing this at Lafayette where so many members of the community are so invested in our enrollment success,” added MacDonald.

“The faculty, current students and alumni have all provided incredible support as the enrollment team has transitioned all our recruitment strategies onto virtual platforms.” 

Leave a Reply

*