As COVID-19 stretches on (and on), we’re getting a clearer picture of how the pandemic has widened disparities. We know it disproportionately impacts racial minorities, people with disabilities, members of the LGBTQ community, and primary caregivers. And for people with intersecting identities who happen to be in academia, we know the pandemic is creating a lot of additional stress, with cuts and closures leaving some feeling isolated and overworked.

U.S. students are dropping out of college or failing to enroll entirely, with Black and Hispanic students from low-income communities among the hardest hit demographic, according to a recent report.

A new analysis of the High School Benchmarks report from the National Student Clearinghouse Research Center suggests total post-secondary enrollment dropped by 6.8 per cent this fall, compared to a 1.5 per cent decline between 2018 and 2019.

“The pandemic disproportionately affected graduates of low-income, high-poverty, and high-minority high schools, with their enrollments dropping more steeply than their more advantaged counterparts,” reads an excerpt.

“For instance, enrollment declines are 2.3 times steeper for low-income high schools compared to higher-income schools.”

The report includes data on 860,000 high school graduates from about 3,500 high schools who enrolled at institutions that participate in the Clearinghouse. It defined minority high schools as institutions where at least 40 per cent of the student population is Black and/or Hispanic.


Students from high and low-income high schools enrolled in college at roughly equal rates before COVID-19. In 2020, enrollment rates by students from low-income schools dropped by 11.4 per cent, compared to a 2.9 per cent drop for students from wealthier communities.

“Low-income high schools saw a larger college enrollment decline (-10.7 per cent) than higher-income high schools (-4.6 per cent), a reversal of the pre-pandemic pattern of change,” reads an excerpt from the report.

“For high-minority high schools, college enrollees in 2020 declined 9.4 per cent compared to a 0.9 per cent decline in 2019, whereas low-minority schools reported a 4.8 per cent decline in 2020 compared to a 2 percent decline the year prior.”


Community college enrollment among graduates of low-income high schools dropped by 18 per cent in September, obliterating the 2.4 per cent gain recorded in 2019.

Community college enrollment among high-income school graduates declined by 8.8 per cent, compared to a 0.4 per cent gain the year prior.

The report pegs the overall enrollment of community colleges down by 13.2 per cent, compared to a 1.3 total increase in 2019.

“This represents a decline 4 times greater than the decline of entrants to public four-year institutions (-3 per cent), and 2.5 times greater than the decline at private nonprofit four-year institutions (-5.2 per cent),” reads the report.

“These results indicate that community colleges remain the worst-hit sector by COVID-19 while public four-year colleges appear to be the least affected, with a small drop from the prior year (-2.6 per cent to -3.0 per cent).”