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Our Parent Survey Shows Educational Gaps Are Widening as a Result of the Pandemic

August 20th, 2020

By Rich Nickel and Dr. Richard Daniel

For thousands of students in Arizona, the pandemic has reshaped their college experience, and for many, jeopardized their chances of graduating with a certificate or degree. Evidence from around the country and from within Arizona highlights the growing inequities and negative effects of the pandemic on college students.

But the picture of how the crisis impacts college access and college-going for high school students in our state continues to emerge. Key metrics, like FAFSA completion rates, show worrisome trends, and barriers to access that predate the pandemic remain significant challenges for students and families. These barriers include limited access to information about college options, minimal state-level funding for financial aid in Arizona, and the acute shortage of counselors in our state.

These trends signal the vital importance of working with, and advocating on behalf of, students and families throughout Arizona to ensure they have access to the necessary college-going information and resources.

Listening to Arizona Families

This summer, in partnership with Arizona GEAR UP, we surveyed 400 parents of 10 – 12  grade students throughout Arizona to better understand parent perceptions regarding student support for college preparation, parent resources to help students prepare for college, the impact of the pandemic on students’ decisions about college, and their families’ financial circumstances.

Arizona GEAR UP is a state leader in educational access and attainment for students living in low-income communities, and works to significantly increase preparation and success in postsecondary education for all students served. Additionally, Arizona GEAR UP leverages resources to support Arizona’s education priorities and expand capacity to make local and state initiatives possible.

From the outset of the pandemic, we have been concerned that the closures of schools and colleges—and the transition to online learning—would ultimately prevent many students from going to college or from persisting to graduation, despite their expressed desire to do so. We’ve been particularly concerned that low-income, rural, and first-generation students, and students of color, would be disproportionately impacted by the disruption.

Importantly, this concern arises not because of any shortcomings on the part of students and families, but rather the lack of access to information, resources, and support regarding college options and the admissions process.

Key Findings from Our Statewide Parent Survey

Broadly, the findings of our survey reaffirmed our concerns: students and their families still want to pursue a college education despite the pandemic, but many do not receive the supports to help them overcome the heightened barriers. Additionally, those who were already marginalized in the K-12 and higher education systems before the pandemic are the most likely not to receive the supports they need.

Access to Information

Parents identified counselor support as the most helpful resource regarding information about college preparation. At the same time, they also indicated they have insufficient access to counselors.

Most parents indicated they do not have enough information about the college preparation process or about the impact of COVID-19 on college enrollment, and they say the pandemic will impact their ability to pay for college.

Nearly 20 percent of parents indicated the pandemic had influenced their student’s decision about which college to attend.

Among those surveyed, 38 percent of parents indicated their students did not receive non-academic supports from school during the pandemic. Within this segment, 45 percent of respondents were of Hispanic origin, 44 percent were from rural communities, and 44 percent did not have a college education.

This lack of support and information is especially problematic for the nearly 25 percent of families who are unfamiliar with the college preparation process. Nearly a third of these families have a household income lower than $49,000 or do not have a college education.

Academics and Learning

From an academic perspective, parents are not confident in the education their students’ will receive. A majority of those surveyed, including 48 percent of rural parents, believe that the instruction their students receive this fall will not adequately prepare them for college.

Relatedly, while the majority of parents said they have the necessary devices to support remote learning, more than 33 percent of families who live in low-income communities do not have access to devices needed to fully participate in remote learning, highlighting the potential increase in information and educational opportunity gaps.

Clearly, if we hope to mitigate the negative impacts of the pandemic on college access and college success, and to prevent pre-existing equity and opportunity gaps from widening, it will require a collective, coordinated effort on the part of school leaders, education advocates, philanthropic organizations, and legislators. Together, we must partner with and advocate for all students and families—not just those positioned closest to opportunity—so everyone receives the information, supports, and resources necessary to access college and achieve success.

Rich Nickel is the President and CEO of College Success Arizona, where he leads the organization toward its goal of assisting all Arizonans in gaining access to, and successfully attaining, a college credential.

Dr. Richard Daniel is the Executive Vice President and COO of College Success Arizona where he directs the organization’s research and policy activities.

For more information about the findings from our statewide parent survey and the methodology we used, please contact Dr. Richard Daniel at

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