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Center for the Study of Free Enterprise associate director conducts study on pandemic, college enrollment

Sean Mulholland, associate director of Western Carolina University's Center for the Study of Free Enterprise, has a new study on the effects of COVID-19 on college enrollment.

Mulholland spoke recently with Shannon Watkins of the James G. Martin Center for Academic Renewal about his new research paper, "COVID-19 Prevalence and Empty College Seats."

Mulholland's study measures the prevalence of the pandemic using confirmed cases and deaths related to COVID-19 He then compares the prevalence of cases in the vicinity of colleges against the probability that those institutions will have empty seats coming into fall semester 2020.

Sean Mulholland

More empty seats are created when students are changing their minds about where to attend college, he said. Mulholland found that, according to surveys conducted in April 2020 as many as 25 percent of high school students were reconsidering their university decision options due to the uncertainty that COVID-19 has created in the world. He said that several factors came into play, including distance from home to school, economic uncertainty and concern over contracting the virus itself. What he sought to understand was how these factors, specifically the likelihood of infection, were influencing incoming freshmen decisions.

Using data from the National Association of College Admission Counseling, Mulholland was able to demonstrate an early link between the prevalence of COVID-19 in the county where a college was located and the availability of open freshmen seats for the fall 2020 semester, possibly indicating that fear of contraction of the virus is a deciding factor in enrollment decision.

The impact of COVID-19 on higher education is still unfolding, and Mulholland's research continues to tackle an ongoing problem. Watch the full video HERE.

For more information, go to the center's webpage HERE.

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