Some college students not returning for spring semester over pandemic changes

Eye on KELOLAND

SIOUX FALLS, S.D. (KELO) — Colleges across the country are starting to reconvene for the spring semester after a longer-than usual winter break, as part of an effort to help slow the spread of the coronavirus. But not all college-age students are choosing to go to school this year, instead deciding on the increasingly common pandemic gap year or semester.

“I’ve been working 35 hours a week, pretty close to full time,” Landon DeBoer said. 

DeBoer graduated from Lincoln High School with the class of 2020 and was planning to head to college in the fall.

“I applied to a few Big 10 schools in the area, state schools, I also applied to University of Chicago,” DeBoer said. 

His plans changed when he realized the pandemic would stretch well into the start of his college career.

“Not getting the same experience and being able to meet people from different places, gain friendships,” DeBoer said. 

It’s why DeBoer and many of his fellow 2020 graduates have chosen to take time off to avoid the worst of the pandemic’s impact.

“I know a few who have taken either the whole year off or they went the first semester and they took the next semester off because it’s not going to be really the same and they’d be spending money that is not really going to help them,” DeBoer said. 

“A big part of the college experience is that socialization part. I think for a lot of students at other schools that was missing this fall,” Augustana University Enrollment Director Adam Heinitz said. 

Heinitz says the student experience, rather than coronavirus concerns, is one of the biggest reasons he’s hearing of students choosing to take a gap year or deciding to take the spring semester off.

“Some students who went back to college this fall were maybe a little disappointed in other parts of the country with what that process was like with their classes heavily online, so they’re looking at either taking a semester off or possibly transferring to a school that’s more in person, and Augustana has benefited from that,” Heinitz said.

Augustana has seen more students transferring in for its January and spring terms to take advantage of on-campus opportunities.

“Augustana did a nice job in the fall, with our flex plan, staying in person and still providing a pretty traditional college experience,” Heinitz said. “So students have talked to friends and maybe didn’t have quite the same experience at their institution so maybe they’re switching gears and joining us in February.”

But others like DeBoer are waiting until fall to start college.

“I felt like it would be a good year to work and make some money to get ready for school,” DeBoer said.

While traveling Europe or volunteering in overseas missions were off the table for many gap year students, spending a year in the workforce doesn’t seem to be changing many plans for higher education.

“Some of what we’ve heard from students who’ve done that is its just reaffirmed that they want to get back to school,” Heinitz said.

Heinitz says an important step is making sure these gap year students have a plan for the future.

“I think it’s really important for them to have a re-enrollment plan and to be thinking about what is it going to look like when I re-enroll? Because if they don’t have that timeline or idea in their head, it could be easier to get comfortable working and making some money, then as time ticks on, going back to school can be a challenge,” Heinitz said.

DeBoer says his year off of school has given him more than a bigger bank account.

“It definitely helped me solidify what I want to go into,” DeBoer said. “I did a few job shadows…and it was nice to have a little more time to make up a decision.”

It’s why he feels confident in his decision to trade bread for books this fall.

“I definitely know what I want to do so school will be an important step in getting where I want to go,” DeBoer said. 

Augustana University is also seeing an increase in enrollment this spring thanks to a return of international students who were unable to travel to school last fall.

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