Our New Study Reveals How the Pandemic Has Changed Higher Education

Posted: September 20, 2021

Dana Cruikshank

3 min. read

We will win the war on COVID. Vaccinations, social distancing, and health safety measures will prevail. Even the Delta variant will subside. And we can all go back to the way things were before. 


Let’s not be so quick to throw our old caps in the air. The long-term effects of COVID on the higher education landscape pose a challenge on a new front, and we should prepare now.

It’s plain to see that enrollment numbers have taken a hit. Perhaps not so obvious is the complexity of the trauma caused by the blow. 

The recovering post-2020 economy has undoubtedly worsened the industry-wide declines. However, the decision to pursue a college education is fueled largely by need – a force that’s been in flux since before the pandemic. 

This brings us to a simple question: How did the pandemic impact prospective student interest in higher education? 

A Way to Measure the Impact

Part of that answer is The COVID Correction, VisionPoint’s new research report illustrating COVID’s impact on higher education enrollments. 

Using statistical analyses on organic search data, my colleagues from VisionPoint’s research team and I conducted a national study on prospective student interest levels over the past 18 months. Our study covered Agriculture, MBAs, Accounting, Gender Studies, and Ethnic Studies, uptrending fields like healthcare and information technology, and more. Considering that an estimated 70% of higher education web traffic comes from Google, organic search data is an excellent proxy measure of student interest.

Our goal was to measure the direct impact of COVID on prospects’ online search behavior for different degree types. What we learned was startling.

For example, interest in STEM degrees dropped by nearly 27% as a direct result of COVID, while performing arts degrees suffered a 54% drop in interest

The Decrease in Interest is Real 

There is no cure-all strategy for reversing the damage we’ve sustained as a sector. Even so, our recent study uncovered a wealth of discoveries that can help, including:

  • Insights that suggest the positive enrollment data some programs saw may be anomalies set to backslide toward negative trends in years to come.
  • Which areas of study present the best opportunities for growth.
  • Which areas of study will likely regress and need a more robust marketing push.

Charting a path out of this pandemic will come down to making moves in the right direction. If we can grasp, with statistical certainty, where market demand has surged and eroded in terms of specific fields of study, we’ll know where to focus our institutional resources on based on a clear view of the growth opportunities ahead. 

The eye-opening information in our report can help inform enrollment decisions institutions are making – and not just on a broad level. Our data drills down to individual programs, which can help guide positioning, messaging approaches, campaign strategies, and even curriculum development. 

We’re thrilled to finally share this exciting work with our peers in the higher ed community. 

Download the Report & Join the Conversation 

On Thursday, September 23, join us for a free, interactive webinar hosted by myself and Josh Dodson – our Vice President of Innovation at VisionPoint and an accomplished authority in higher ed analytics. We’ll break down our findings. We’ll answer questions. Together, we’ll discuss what these new data points mean for enrollment marketers in pivotal recruitment cycles to come. 

To review your free copy of The COVID Correction report before the webinar, download it here.

Knowledge (Backed by Data) is Power

The road back to “normal” may be long. It will take time, resources, and foresight. If we can use what we know to our advantage, we can continue to make sure-footed steps through the uncertainty.

As I like say to my clients, “there’s a light at the end, and it isn’t a train.”

Dana Cruikshank is the Director of Strategic Partnerships at VisionPoint Marketing. As a senior-level consultant for new and existing projects, Dana helps colleges and universities devise custom data-driven marketing solutions for increasing enrollment. Dana brings more than a decade of higher ed wisdom from having worked on both sides of the institution-agency relationship, which includes first-hand experience at Virginia Tech, where he served in various marketing leadership roles prior to VisionPoint. If you would like to start a conversation with Dana or any of our experts, please visit our Contact Us page. We’re on a mission to help higher ed institutions succeed.