Higher education is far from affordable. Coronavirus-related financial struggles have made college enrollment even more impractical for many students.
Many institutions are not able to offer discounted tuition or housing for struggling students. Most colleges require students to still pay full tuition for online classes and full meal plan prices for bagged food. Additionally, COVID-19 has altered the college experience. On-campus events are now held virtually or cancelled altogether.
These changes have made college less appealing to many and financially impossible for others. As a result, many would-be freshmen have opted to take a gap year.
According to the Gap Year Association, an organization that supports students during their leave from school, a gap year is either a semester or year of experiential learning that serves to expand social, personal and professional development. This typically occurs prior to the start of post-secondary education.
This semester’s gap year participants have made a financially conscious decision that will likely result in greater academic success upon entering college.
American Council on Education surveyed 2,000 currently enrolled U.S college students, one in five students reported feeling uncertain about whether they would enroll for the fall 2020 semester. These feelings of uncertainty have resulted in an increase in gap year participants during the pandemic, according to BBC.
In 2018, the Higher Education Research Institute at UCLA reported that less than 3% of first-year college students took a gap year prior to their freshman year. Comparatively, a survey conducted by higher education research firm Art & Science Group reported 16% of 1,171 students surveyed planned to take a gap year during the fall 2020 semester.
This jump in gap year participants is proof of COVID-19’s impact on higher education. Many students and families have decided it may be best to delay enrollment until the worst of the pandemic has passed.
There is a misconception that a gap year is simply an opportunity for students to delay college and spend a year or semester relaxing at home.
Gap years are often even more fulfilling and labor-intensive than the time a student would spend in college. This is especially true for this semester. Instead of spending hours in a dorm room taking online classes, gap year students are serving their communities and building professional skills.
Gap year programs connect students with these leadership opportunities. Many of these programs, unlike college classes and campus events, are still being held in person.
Adaptations have been made to ensure safety and social distancing, High Mountain Institute, for example, is hosting a fall 2020 gap semester program that includes a 16-day expedition. The Colorado-based program works to develop student’s leadership and critical thinking skills through nature exploration.
Gap year programs often offer scholarships or reduced fees to low-income students. Affordability and opportunity make these programs a great fit for students who are not able to attend college this semester.
According to a Los Angeles Times article, many institutions place restrictions on gap year students, such as labeling them as transfer students. These restrictions often result in decreases to a student’s financial aid package, since most universities require students to reapply for financial aid after a gap year, according to CNBC. Income and financial means can change over the time taken off from school, which often leads to less financial aid being awarded. This is extremely harmful to those who have been forced to delay enrollment due to unexpected expenses resulting from the COVID-19 pandemic.
NAU students who wish to take a gap year can expect increased tuition rates. NAU’s pledge, that guarantees a fixed tuition rate throughout all four years of enrollment, does not accommodate gap years. According to the Office of the Registrar, students who have deferred admission no longer qualify for their original pledge group. A new pledge group is activated equal to their revised admission term. This will likely place gap year students at a financial disadvantage.
Colleges should accommodate gap year students, especially during the fall semester. Instead, institutions seemingly punish those who have opted to defer enrollment during the pandemic, despite the fact that many of these students have no other choice.
This semester’s gap year students made a rewarding decision. A gap year spent developing leadership skills is far more beneficial than a college semester spent stuck in a dorm.