With the pandemic, have student dropouts increased at university?


The Covid-19 pandemic has disrupted the academic trajectories of many students. Whether they were new to higher education or already engaged in their university career, they were faced with an unprecedented situation: the closure of universities and the transition to online learning have transformed the relationship with ‘education.

Virtual classrooms have become the new normal, and in-person interactions have given way to long-distance relationships. In addition to the social aspect, the quality of learning was put to the test. Technical challenges and variability in Internet access have led to inequities in student participation and engagement. Online teaching methods, although necessary, have left aside pedagogical interactions, impacting learning effectiveness.

All of these factors have had a profound impact on the student experience. Many young people expressed feelings of loneliness, isolation, and uncertainty about their academic future. In short, the pandemic has generated a radical transformation of the student experience, sometimes to the point of discouraging some students, who have been forced to abandon their studies.

The repercussions of the pandemic on career choices

It is essential to take into consideration that the pandemic has not only had an immediate impact by disrupting classes globally, but it has also had effects on the acquisition of knowledge. Studies carried out in several countries estimate that the pandemic has caused a drop of around 35% in academic performance over an academic year . Less privileged students appear to have been hit hardest by this learning loss, exacerbating already existing educational inequalities.

The disruption to education due to the Covid-19 pandemic will have consequences that go beyond simply reducing academic performance, also influencing students’ future choices. In Sweden, a recent study highlights that the pandemic has influenced students’ career choices by reducing interest in professional training in heavily affected sectors such as hotels and restaurants.

This trend reflects students’ concerns about the stability and viability of certain careers in light of the economic disruption caused by the pandemic. Therefore, the long-term consequences of Covid-19 on the education and professional prospects of students must be closely monitored.

In France, an in-depth analysis of student behavior at university reveals a notable drop of 10.6% in the likelihood of students continuing their studies following the Covid-19 pandemic . This reduction in the re-registration rate is all the more worrying as it is equivalent to the sum of the declines observed during the previous decade. These figures highlight a worrying phenomenon since these dropouts translate into fewer opportunities on the job market for the students concerned.

Additionally, exam attendance rates did not show significant variations in the year of the pandemic. This suggests that the decrease in re-enrollment rates cannot be attributed to an increase in absenteeism, but rather to other factors linked to the health crisis. This situation raises major questions about how students have been affected by the pandemic and how it has affected their academic and professional prospects.

Demographic and academic factors to consider

The impact of the pandemic on students varies widely based on various demographics and education levels. Our results show that undergraduate and graduate students were hit hardest, with significant enrollment declines of 20.9% and 17.3% respectively compared to the previous year.

Similarly, students enrolled in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM)-related fields experienced an even steeper decline in re-enrollment rates, highlighting the particular challenges facing these students have had to face due to restrictions linked to the pandemic.

Another trend worth highlighting is that men seem to have been more affected by the pandemic than women, at least when it comes to dropping out of school. This gender disparity in re-enrollment rates highlights the need to consider socio-demographic factors in developing educational policies to mitigate the impact of the pandemic on students.

During the deconfinement, the different regions were subject to health restrictions of varying intensities. In particular, areas located in the east were classified as red zones, which led to a more gradual deconfinement process, marked by the implementation of additional restrictive measures for a brief period. Within these areas, it is interesting to note that there does not appear to have been any significant effect resulting from these additional measures.

This observation suggests that it is not so much the intensity of restrictive policies that influenced students’ re-registration behaviors, but rather the overall experience of confinement itself. This finding once again highlights the importance of understanding the emotional and psychological repercussions of the pandemic on students , who have had to face major upheavals in their educational journey.

Understanding the effects of the pandemic on students is of crucial importance, as it provides a better understanding of the challenges facing students in a post-pandemic world. It is imperative that policymakers heed the lessons learned from this unprecedented time to build a more resilient and equitable educational future for all.

Author Bios: Leonard Moulin is a Research Fellow at the National Institute of Demographic Studies (INED) and Etienne Dagorn is a Doctoral student in Educational Economics at the University of Paris 1 Panthéon-Sorbonne