New Pulse Point Survey of College Presidents Shows Increase in Mental Health Concerns, Ongoing Impact of COVID-19
December 11, 2020

​The results of ACE’s latest Pulse Point survey of 268 college and university presidents, the second of the fall term, show that leaders are increasingly concerned about the mental health of their students as the COVID-19 pandemic stretches into its ninth month. Other pressing issues at the top of presidents’ minds are the decline in enrollment and the long-term impact of the pandemic on institutional finances.

The survey also captures college and university efforts to promote civic engagement and student voting in the last election, as well as presidents’ thoughts on the level of priority the incoming Biden administration should place on some key higher education-related policy topics.

Nearly 70 percent of presidents identified student mental health as among their most pressing issues, compared to 53 percent in the last survey. Over 66 percent of all presidents are reporting an increase in the utilization of mental health services due to COVID-19 and presidents say they are implementing different strategies to support the mental health and well-being of their campus community. For example, 59 percent reported that their institutions have “invested in virtual or tele-therapy services.”

Over half of presidents (54 percent) reported a decrease in their fall 2020 enrollment relative to fall 2019 enrollment, with presidents at public two-year institutions (84 percent) the most likely to report a total enrollment decrease. However, graduate enrollment did increase particularly at public and private four-year institutions. Most presidents expected their spring 2021 enrollment to remain similar to fall 2020, but one-third said they expected to see a decline.

As for how campuses plan to operate in the spring, across all sectors, the type of instruction planned for the spring 2021 term closely mirrors the type of instruction offered at the beginning of the fall 2020 term, which is predominantly a hybrid model. While 8 percent of the presidents in the fall indicated they were “exclusively online instruction,” only 2 percent reported to do the same in the spring. Many presidents shared that they felt “flexibility” was key in addressing instructional challenges and potential quarantine requirements.

When asked about how they were responding to financial challenges raised by the pandemic, the majority of presidents had already implemented hiring and compensation freezes, while 44 percent of presidents at public four-year institutions report having to lay off employees, compared to 31 percent at private four-year and 27 percent at public two-year institutions.

Presidents also rated which policy issues they think President-elect Joe Biden should prioritize in his upcoming administration and almost 80 percent of presidents thought “supporting congressional efforts for additional, substantive COVID-19 relief funding for higher education” should be a high priority for the Biden administration, followed by “expanding need-based aid (i.e. expanding maximum Pell Grant), “increasing research funding,” and “expanding student debt relief.”

​ACE's Pulse Point Surveys

Pulse Point surveys gather the insights of college and university leaders through a brief set of questions designed to get their take on the decisions, issues, and challenges they face.

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