Lehigh Valley colleges face new challenges on Decision Day amid pandemic economic concerns

Written by on May 1, 2020

Lehigh Valley colleges face new challenges on Decision Day amid pandemic economic concerns

By Chloe Nouvelle

May 1, 2020

Photo | Chloe Nouvelle / WLVR

National decision day is nearly here. Friday, May 1 is traditionally the deadline for American high school seniors to commit to a college. But the COVID-19 pandemic and uncertainty about fall campus openings is making it hard for some students to commit to a school.

Mary Beth Carey is the Director of Admission and Financial Aid at Moravian College. 

“I’ve been in college admissions for over 32 years. And I literally thought that I had seen it all up until this.”

According to polling from a consulting firm, Art and Science Group,12 percent of high school seniors who have made college deposits no longer plan on attending their four year school full time.

Dave Pidgeon, spokesman for Pennsylvania’s State System of Higher Education says it’s unclear how the pandemic may impact demand for a traditional university experience.

“And whether this will increase the demand for delivery of academic programs maybe more online. So we’re at a point right now where there’s a lot of unknown, 

it’s going to be the universities in the higher education systems that show nimbleness and adaptability in this environment and that have the potential to continue on into whatever is going to come next,” said Pidgeon.

Given all the unknowns, Moravian College in Bethlehem is extending its decision deadline indefinitely.  

For Mary Beth Carey, May 1 will be just another day on the calendar. 

“As far as commitments and enrollment deposits from students, we are running— it’s a roller coaster every day.” 

Carey says the school is in a good place when it comes to enrollment targets for next term. But she notes they’re already seeing the impact of economic insecurity, with some families saying they’re struggling to come up with an initial deposit. 

“Families that you know, it typically would not be a hardship for them to put down the $500 to secure a spot and the incoming class are really anxious about parting with that money. Some of them just don’t have it.”

Lafayette College is also keeping pace with enrollment goals. But unlike Moravian, Dean of Admissions Matt Hyde says the school has no plans to extend the decision deadline.

“Our ability to land this class is important and fortunately we’re tracking well on that front,” said Hyde.

Many Americans’ financial situations have changed since they filed applications for federal student aid.

Lafayette is having to work on that with families.

“This pandemic has impacted the markets which impacts families’ abilities to afford these kinds of experiences,” said Hyde.

That’s forcing colleges like Lafayette to reevaluate financial aid offers — digging into their own pockets to help make the school more affordable for families.

“You know, some have indicated that the current situation with a pandemic has impacted their ability to forecast the opportunity to afford this experience down the line, in which case there can be some moments to pivot, but the fact of the matter is, this is an isolated moment in time. We don’t know how long it’s going to extend and impact a family’s financial abilities.”

Hyde says Lafayette is fortunate to have quote “significant resources” to support families and make college more affordable, despite the financial hit of partially refunding room and board, when students left campus mid-semester this spring. 

Mitigating some of the financial impacts of the pandemic is important to state schools too. The Board of Governors for Pennsylvania’s State System of Higher Education has voted to freeze Basic in-state tuition for undergraduate students at its 14 universities.

Watch Chloe’s PBS39 News Tonight Report.


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