Pulse Point Survey Explores President’s Views of Enrollment Trends and Pell Grants
January 14, 2022

As the pandemic continues to create unc​ertainty within higher education and on campuses, ACE’s latest Pulse Point survey of college and university presidents looked at how they view the changing demographics of students enrolled at their institutions, as well as the value of Pell Grants in providing low- and moderate-income students access to postsecondary education. 

As in previous Pulse Point surveys in this series, presidents also identified their most pressing concerns and—for the seventh time since April 2020—mental health of students was the pressing issue cited most frequently by presidents at 68 percent. The next most cited pressing concern was “enrollment numbers for the next academic term.” This is not surprising given new data released by the National Student Clearinghouse Research Center, which shows enrollment continued to fall nationwide for the second year in a row during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Changing Nature of Enrollment

The changing nature of enrollment in postsecondary education in the United States over the last decade is well-documented across institutional types and sectors, but there are concerns that further disruptions resulting from the COVID-19 pandemic could impact future postsecondary enrollment demographics, particularly low-income students, students of color, and international students. 

For this edition, presidents were asked to identify their level of agreement that the COVID-19 pandemic changed the demographics of students enrolled at their institution. While responses varied, presidents at public, two-year institutions were most likely to indicate demographics of enrolled students had shifted as a result of the pandemic. Less than half of presidents of private four-year institutions indicated there was a shift.   

Among those who indicated some level of agreement that demographics had changed, a majority said they were seeing decreased enrollment among students of color, international students, Pell-eligible students, post-traditional students, low-income students, first-generation students, and male students (especially male students of color).

As one president of a public four-year institution acknowledged in responding to the survey, “Students are questioning the value of a college degree more than ever. This, along with the uncertainty about what the educational experience will actually look like during the pandemic is negatively impacting students’ decision to enroll.”

Power of Pell Grants 

ACE and other higher education organizations have been advocating for Congress to double the maximum Pell Grant. When asked, nine out of 10 presidents in this survey agreed that doing so would increase the enrollment of low- and moderate-income students at their institution. 

In addition, presidents were asked if the current federal student aid system creates unnecessary barriers for students on their campus to receive Pell Grants. Overall, responses indicate the presence of some barriers at the federal level, with 75 percent of presidents responding “strongly agree" or “agree" that the current system creates unnecessary barriers in receiving Pell Grants. Presidents at public two-year institutions were most likely to strongly agree that these barriers exist. 

Click here to read the full survey. See the full series here

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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