‘I didn’t really learn anything’: COVID grads face college by Collin Binkley, Aug. 9, 2022 | AP News

There is no question that there is going to be a marked impact of the pandemic on levels of academic preparedness for college students. I wonder if this is in part what's also contributing to historic low enrollment numbers into colleges and four-year universities this fall. As noted in a recent publication of the Hechinger Report:

"There are 4 million fewer students in college now than there were 10 years ago, a falloff many observers blame on Covid-19."

This is unfortunate, not just for the future of higher education, but particularly for young people that may be structuring themselves out of a college degree for reasons that could additionally include an actual or perceived lack of preparedness given the chaos that tended to accompany the pandemic for so many.

Clearly, as college and university faculty, we have to be sensitive to this and not make students feel badly about being underprepared. Surely, these youth still learned a lot during this "down time," just not what we might have wished for them to learn. 

Yet, what they have learned about themselves and the world throughout these many months of lockdown and uneven schooling is invaluable, an education in itself. Expressed differently, how the future plays out with this demographic entering our colleges and universities right now is in no small part also in our hands as college and university faculty. 

We should relax our presuppositions about what a prepared students looks and sounds like and get about the business of teaching. We'll get through this, but it'll require some shifts in focus and ongoing sensitivity that all is still not as things were prior to the pandemic. How we respond matters as higher education staff, faculty, and senior management matters so very much. 

I hope and trust that our educational leaders bring resources to the table for these youth so that a college education can continue being the positive, transformational experience that we know it can and should be.

-Angela Valenzuela

‘I didn’t really learn anything’: COVID grads face college

By COLLIN BINKLEY  Aug. 9, 2022 | AP News

Angel Hope looked at the math test and felt lost. He had just graduated 

near the top of his high school class, winning scholarships from prestigious 

colleges. But on this test — a University of Wisconsin exam that measures 

what new students learned in high school — all he could do was guess.

It was like the disruption of the pandemic was catching up to him all at 


Nearly a third of Hope’s high school career was spent at home, in virtual

classes that were hard to follow and easy to brush aside. Some days he

skipped school to work extra hours at his job. Some days he played games 

with his brother and sister. Other days he just stayed in bed.

Algebra got little of his attention, but his teachers kept giving him good 

grades amid a school-wide push for leniency.

“It was like school was optional. It wasn’t a mandatory thing,” said Hope,

18, of Milwaukee. “I feel like I didn’t really learn anything.”

“We have so many students who are going on to college academically

malnourished,” Wagner said. “There is no way they are going to be 

academically prepared for the rigor of college.”

Her group is boosting its tutoring budget and covering tuition for 

students in the program who take summer classes in math or science. 

Still, she fears the setbacks will force some students to take more than 

four years to graduate or, worse, drop out.

“The stakes are tremendously high,” she said.

Researchers say it’s clear that remote instruction caused learning setbacks,

most sharply among Black and Hispanic students. For younger students, 

there’s still hope that America’s schools can accelerate the pace of 

instruction and close learning gaps. But for those who graduated in the

last two years, experts fear many will struggle.

In anticipation of higher needs, colleges from New Jersey to California

have been expanding “bridge” programs that provide summer classes, 

often for students from lower incomes or those who are the first in their 

families to attend college. Programs previously treated as orientation are 

taking on a harder academic edge, with a focus on math, science and study


In Hanceville, Alabama, Wallace State Community College this year

tapped state money to create its first summer bridge program as it braces

for an influx of underprepared students. Students could take three weeks

of accelerated lessons in math and English in a bid to avoid remedial

classes. The school hoped to bring up to 140 students to campus, but just 

10 signed up.

Other states have used federal pandemic relief to help colleges build 

summer programs. In Kentucky, which gave colleges $3.5 million for the 

effort this year, officials called it a “moral imperative.”

“We need these people to be our future workforce, and we need them to 

be successful,” said Amanda Ellis, a vice president of Kentucky’s Council 

on Postsecondary Education.

After the pandemic hit, Angel Hope worked up to 20 hours a week at his 

job with a local nonprofit aid group. He felt the time away from school 

was worth it for the money, especially when nobody was paying attention 

in the online classes. With his parents away at work, he often felt alone, 

shunning social media for days and eating ramen noodles for dinner.

“I think isolating myself was a little bit of my coping mechanism,” he said.

“I was kind of like, ‘Keep it in a little bit and you’ll get through it 


The pandemic led many high schoolers to disengage at a time when they 

would usually be preparing for college or careers, said Rey Saldaña, 

president and CEO of Communities in Schools, a nonprofit group that 

places counselors in public schools in 26 states.

His group worked in some districts where hundreds of students simply 

didn’t return after classrooms reopened. In Charlotte, North Carolina, 

the allure of steady paychecks kept many students away from school 

even after in-person classes resumed, said Shakaka Perry, a reengagement 

coordinator for Communities in Schools.

Perry and her colleagues spent last school year bringing students back 

to school and getting them ready for graduation. But when she thinks 

about whether they’re ready for college, she has doubts: “It’s going to 

be an awakening.”

A couple months after struggling through his math placement test, 

Hope headed to the University of Wisconsin-Madison, for six weeks 

of intense classes at a summer bridge program. He took a math class 

that covered the ground he missed in high school, and he’s signed up 

to take calculus in the fall.

He also revived basic study skills that went dormant in high school. 

He started studying at the library. He got used to the rhythms of school, 

with assignments every day and tests every other week. He rediscovered 

what it’s like to enjoy school.

Most importantly, he says it changed his mindset: Now he feels like he’s 

there to learn, not just to get by.

“After this, I definitely feel prepared for college,” he said. “If I didn’t 

have this, I would be in a very bad place.”


The Associated Press education team receives support from the Carnegie 

Corporation of New York. The AP is solely responsible for all content.


Associated Press writer Carrie Antlfinger in Milwaukee contributed.


For more back-to-school coverage, visit: