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OU, OSU seeing spike in first-year students asking for "gap year" amid COVID-19 pandemic
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OU, OSU seeing spike in first-year students asking for "gap year" amid COVID-19 pandemic

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COVID-19 is driving more and more newly admitted students to postpone attending the state’s two largest universities.

As of Aug. 8, the University of Oklahoma had already seen an 85% increase in requests for deferred enrollments, with 89, while it had 48 for 2019-20.

And at Oklahoma State University, the 75 deferrals are up 88% from last year’s 40 — but officials there said given the current climate, they think things could be much worse.

Kyle Wray, vice president of enrollment and brand management at OSU, said the pandemic has made the fall 2020 enrollment season fraught with uncertainty.

“Fear is a powerful and motivating factor in so many decisions we make in life. Going to college is a big decision,” said Wray.

“It has been a rough year. We shut everything down in March, and we sent everyone home. Almost every aspect of higher education is up in the air.”

Whereas admissions decisions would typically be locked down by the first week in August, Wray said many more people are facing new challenges that have made college enrollment much more unpredictable this year.

“Normally, we would have everyone come at once, but we are checking in students in waves to be as safe as possible. You’ll have some we expected to show up today, and they won’t because of things going on in their lives and families,” he said. “You have families having discussions about affordability and the effects of COVID-19 on parent salaries and student salaries. I mean, we had students with income from jobs in March, waiting tables for example, that they don’t have anymore.

“There will be people who wake up tomorrow morning and will go, ‘I think I ought to go to college.’ And we’ll have some who were going to go somewhere else who now want to come to Oklahoma State.”

Oklahoma’s largest public universities are hardly alone in seeing more students put off college until fall 2021.

According to Forbes, 20% Of Harvard University’s expected first-year class has deferred.

That’s 340 students, compared to the 80 to 110 admitted students who take a gap year before enrolling at Harvard in a typical year.

Josh Fudge just graduated from Oklahoma City’s Classen School of Advanced Studies and was headed to Nashville’s Belmont University, known nationally for its music school.

But after Belmont announced that it would open with online instruction with only tentative plans to resume in-person classes later in the year, Fudge got a full-time job and plans to sock his earnings away while he sits out a year.

The university guaranteed him that his seat, as well as his scholarship, will be waiting.

“I decided it wouldn’t make sense for me to pay the same tuition price while receiving an online education,” Fudge said. “I don’t function well in an online classroom situation and thought it would be best to wait for a better time to attend school.”

A check-in with two other area four-year universities, where student deferrals are exceedingly rare, found that hasn’t changed despite the pandemic.

Kelly Jo Larsen, assistant vice president for enrollment management at Northeastern State University, said she is expecting a “robust class of new students” when classes begin there on Monday in both online and in-person modes.

“COVID-19 has had an impact on many aspects of university life. However, we are pleased that our students continue to be committed to furthering their education,” said Larsen. “We have had four students apply to move their fall admission to a later term. This is down from last year, when six students applied to move their admission to a later term.”

At the University of Tulsa, only three or four students defer each year, “and we have not seen much change this fall from previous years,” said Casey Reed, senior vice provost for enrollment management.


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Andrea Eger

918-581-8470

andrea.eger

@tulsaworld.com

Twitter: @AndreaEger

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Staff Writer

I'm a projects reporter, examining key education topics and other local issues. Since joining the Tulsa World in 1999, I have been a three-time winner of Oklahoma’s top award for investigative reporting by an individual. Phone: 918-581-8470

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