Students Who Finished High School During COVID Lockdowns Are Failing College

A shuttered Las Vegas high school in 2020 / Getty Images
November 1, 2022

Students whose last two years of high school were marred by school lockdowns and online learning are now falling behind at college, the New York Times reports.

Members of the class of 2022, who were sophomores when the pandemic began, are struggling to keep up in their freshman college courses, feeling like they lost two years of education in high school. With the latest results from the Education Department showing a dismal decline in fourth- and eighth-grade math and reading scores, universities fear that students struggling to catch up may be an ongoing trend among college freshmen.

Enrollment in undergraduate programs has fallen 4.2 percent since 2020, according to the National Student Clearinghouse Research Center. Benedict College in Columbia, S.C., saw its first-year enrollment, which normally sits at about 700 students, drop to 378 this term. According to the school's president, Dr. Roslyn Clark Artis, the college's math department has particularly seen "significant remediation needs."

"We are now two and a half weeks past midterm, and our grades are telling the tale: Students are struggling in math," Artis told the Times.

The increase in students needing extra help to pass their classes has led professors and administrators across the country to dumb down their courses and look for better tutoring resources, the Times reports:

At Texas A&M University, some math classes saw higher rates of Ds, Fs, as well as more withdrawals, over the course of the pandemic. The problems have been particularly bad for first-year students, said Paulo Lima-Filho, the executive director of the university's math learning center, which provides tutoring.

Students of all kinds seemed to lack sharp foundational math skills and rigorous study habits, he said. And some students had flawed understandings of basic concepts, which particularly worried him.

"That gap will propagate through the generation of the cohort," Dr. Lima-Filho said. "Colleges are going to have to make an extra effort to bridge that gap."

After two years of pandemic shutdowns, colleges also report significant increases in students' social anxiety and academic apathy.

Christopher Basgier, the director of writing at Auburn University, said the number of freshmen seeking tutoring has dropped. "It may be that because they spent more time learning from home, they aren't used to going out and seeking that kind of extra help," Basgier told the Times.

"We have had students—for the first time in my 10 years as a college president—say to me, 'Do we have to attend the parties?'" Artis said. "There's almost anxiety associated with coming back into a social setting."