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VSAC research finds COVID-19 didn’t discourage most students from their college plans

But pandemic has increased need for financial aid, especially for first-gen students

WINOOSKI (April 2, 2021) – The Vermont Student Assistance Corporation (VSAC) today released results from the third in a series of surveys gauging the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic on Vermont college students during the 2020-2021 academic year.

As was the case in the prior two surveys, this analysis showed that most students who planned to start or continue their college education this year still pursued those plans; 86% had already enrolled in the fall, and an additional 4% planned to start in the spring semester. Only 6% of respondents reported that they would delay enrollment, with 3% undecided at the time of the survey.

However, college has certainly not been easy this year. Students also reported that COVID-related income losses and changes to the learning environment presented formidable challenges.

The latest findings confirm that the ongoing financial impact of COVID has increased students’ anxiety about their ability to pay for their education. Among dependent students – those whose parents are assisting with college bills – that level of concern was higher for first-generation students, whose parents do not have college degrees.

In fact, first-generation dependent students were significantly more likely to report their parents had suffered a COVID-related financial event (63%) than were dependent students from families whose parents had some level of college attainment (47%). Fully 70% of independent students reported some income or job loss in their family over the last year, the financial impact being particularly hard on independent female students.

“Not surprisingly, the COVID-19 pandemic has had a much bigger financial impact on those who do not hold college degrees,” said Scott Giles, CEO of VSAC. “This underscores the importance of our work to support Vermonters, particularly those from disadvantaged backgrounds, who want to earn postsecondary degrees and need help paying for it.”

Further, Giles noted, because the Free Application for Financial Student Aid, or FAFSA, uses income tax information from prior years to estimate a student’s financial need, VSAC’s latest survey findings suggest that there will likely be a significant growth in demand for need-based financial aid to college students in the coming years.

“Now that we understand the extent to which the COVID-19 pandemic has impacted families’ ability to pay for college, it’s critically important that we look for opportunities to increase financial aid, particularly for underserved Vermonters,” said Giles.

VSAC’s latest survey also showed that college students have struggled with the transition to remote learning. Nearly half of those surveyed reported that the current learning environment did not work well for them this year, citing difficulties with technology, as well as missing out on in-person learning experiences such as internships, clinical rounds, and study-abroad programs. Respondents also reported stresses related to lack of childcare and needing to help their own children with remote learning.

The survey, completed between January 14-31, reported a margin of error of 3.4%. The 737 respondents came from a randomly selected pool of students who had completed the Free Application for Financial Student Aid (FAFSA) form to receive financial assistance for the 2020-2021 academic year. Nearly one-quarter of respondents were first-year students.

The full report, as well as results from the previous two surveys, can be found here.

About VSAC – Changing Lives through Education and Training since 1965

Vermont Student Assistance Corporation is a public, nonprofit agency established by the Vermont Legislature in 1965 to help Vermonters achieve their education and training goals after high school. VSAC serves students and their families in grades 7-12, as well as adults returning to school, by providing education and career planning services, need-based grants, scholarships and education loans. VSAC has awarded more than $600 million in grants and scholarships for Vermont students, and also administers Vermont’s 529 college savings plan. Share your VSAC story by email to or submit a video to YouTube. Find us at or check in on Facebook and Twitter. #changing lives