Most institutions undecided about fall semester, but confident in preparedness

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Date: May 22, 2020

Contact: Michael Reilly
Executive Director, AACRAO

Most institutions undecided about fall semester, but confident in preparedness
Social distancing plans, calendar changes, tuition discounts, and online instruction all under consideration


WASHINGTON, D.C.—Many institutions are still uncertain about their plans for fall semester, according to the “COVID-19 Snapshot Survey #4: Enrollment Indicators, Fall Course Delivery, Fall Calendar and Social Distancing Measure Plans as of May 20, 2020” published today by the American Association of Collegiate Registrars and Admissions Officers (AACRAO). However, even with this uncertainty, most are feeling OK about their institution’s overall level of preparedness for fall 2020.

Institutions were surveyed about fall course plans, fall calendar start/end plans, course session plans and undergraduate enrollment indicators, an update to a similar survey delivered in April. In addition, the report captured new data regarding social distancing measures, tuition plans, and perceptions of preparedness for fall overall.

Faculty should be prepared for online delivery
Survey respondents indicated a high degree of uncertainty around fall 2020 plans, which makes it difficult for many to act, though some institutions plan to make decisions in the next few weeks. Compared to the April snapshot survey, a slightly higher percentage of institutions report deciding on a fall course delivery scenario, but most remain undecided and many different scenarios are being considered. Among those not yet confirmed to be fully online for fall 2020, 68 percent are asking their faculty to be prepared to teach fully online. About 1 in 5 institutions have social distancing measures already in place for fall 2020.

Enrollment indicators
The survey indicates that undergraduate new student enrollment indicators look less bleak for summer and somewhat worse for some indicators for fall than the sample in early April. However, graduate and/or professional new student enrollment indicators show less of a decline than undergraduate new student enrollment indicators.

Calendar, liability, and tuition considerations
Additional findings include:

  • Except for one respondent, institutions are undecided whether waivers of responsibility for possible COVID-19 infections will be implemented, and they are on the fence about whether that is likely to happen or not.
  • 14 percent are considering a change in tuition for fall 2020 in response to COVID-19.
  • The number of institutions considering various changes to the fall calendar and class session start and end times has increased since asked in mid-April.

The snapshot survey was open from May 14 - 19 and received 376 responses (94 percent from U.S. institutions). Seven respondents were from online-only institutions and were not asked the questions about fall course delivery and social distancing measures.

“We are grateful to our members for taking the time to respond to this survey during unprecedented institutional change,” said Director of AACRAO Research, Wendy Kilgore.

Previous snapshot reports
This report is the fourth survey deployed to capture a snapshot of the impacts of COVID-19 on higher education. It is worth noting that summer and fall 2020 enrollment indicators may also be attributed to factors other than the COVID-19 pandemic.

Some data from the other three surveys is included in this report for comparison. However, the participating institutions are not matched one for one among the four surveys, so absolute comparisons cannot be made. In other words, results are drawn from four separate samples.

Please see the previous three reports for additional data:

  • COVID-19 #3: Transfer Credit Evaluation, Official Transcript Receipt & Delivery, Test Score Receipt and Fall Calendar/Sessions Plans
  • COVID-19 #2: Undergraduate Enrollment Indicators, Impact on Admissions Practice and Fall Course Delivery
  • COVID-19 #1: Impact on Grading, Transcript and Commencement Practices


AACRAO is a non-profit, voluntary, professional association of more than 11,000 higher education professionals representing approximately 2,600 institutions in more than 40 countries. Its commitment to the professional development of its members includes best practice guidance on admissions strategies to meet institutional diversity objectives, delivery of academic programs in innovative ways to meet the needs of a changing student body, and exemplary approaches to student retention and completion.