Sep 22, 2020 - Economy & Business

Students are deferring college to work

Illustration of someone stepping over a diploma.

Illustration: Annelise Capossela/Axios

When the coronavirus pandemic turned college into a series of Zoom meetings, millions of college students decided to defer — or drop out entirely — and get jobs instead.

By the numbers: 22% of college students across all four years are planning not to enroll this fall, according to a College Reaction/Axios poll. Of those not returning to school, most — 73% — are working full time."

“I thought that no matter how hard Harvard tried to train its teaching staff to adapt to the online education format, it would not compare to in-person instruction and would end up having a negative impact on my educational development," says Garrett O'Brien, a rising sophomore at Harvard who has taken this year off.

  • Students are getting jobs as servers, tutors and freelance writers, among other gigs. Many of them are helping support their families.
  • The trend is spurring the creation of startups. Some former Google employees got together and started a "school" that trains students who are taking time off for future jobs in engineering, sales and more.

This phenomenon could have long-lasting effects on the labor market, Stanford economist Nicholas Bloom tells Axios.

  • "One part of the labor market that will be hit hardest will be the lower-skilled end — both with lower demand due to COVID as low-skilled demanding industries like travel, entertainment and retail are shrinking most and with relatively larger supply due to people working a year extra before college," he says. "This could increase inequality even further."
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