International, first-generation student enrollment at risk due to COVID-19

Senate talks enrollment targets ahead of June 1 acceptance date

The University has experienced a 13 per cent decrease in international student applications.
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Journal File Photo

As Queen’s continues to admit the class of 2024, they’re also monitoring the impact COVID-19 will have on actual enrolment in the fall.

In a report to senate on April 14, the Senate Committee on Academic Development (SCAD) acknowledged the context of enrolment has shifted “dramatically” as a consequence of COVID-19. 

The SCAD report revealed that undergraduate applications to Queen’s have decreased by four per cent compared to last year. It marks the first time in the past 10 years that the University has experienced a decline in first-year direct-entry applications.

The decrease comes during an overall decline in the population of Canadian university-aged students, which had reduced the number of applications to universities across the province by three per cent as of February 6, compared to the same time last year, according to the Ontario Universities Application Centre (OUAC).

As domestic applications to Queen’s have remained consistent with last year, the University largely attributes the drop at Queen’s to a 13 per cent decrease in international student applications. 

Prior to the outbreak of COVID-19, weakening relations between Canada and China had already caused a decrease in applications from Chinese students, according to SCAD.

“[S]ome programs were affected more highly, particularly science and engineering, in terms of application levels [from China],” Mark Green, provost and vice-principal (Academic), told Senate. “In some programs, [the decline] was as high as 15 per cent.”

However, the University is still seeing positive results from offers that have already been sent out to prospective students, including acceptances from international students. 

“Even though some of the applications were down, we are doing well in terms of accepted offers,” Green said. “Unfortunately, the COVID-19 situation does raise uncertainty in how that will translate into students actually enrolling.”

The University is considering the implications of various scenarios that see a drop in the enrolment of international students because of the pandemic. In 2019-20, international students comprised 13.2 per cent of the first-year undergraduate class.

While the initial target had aimed to see a proportionate number of international students enrolled, Green said the University is expecting that goal will change because of the pandemic.

One strategy under consideration is to adjust enrollment targets by filling in the loss to international enrollment with a higher number of domestic students. For 2020-21, the total first-year direct-entry enrollment target across the University remains 4,786 students.

“We are looking at scenarios where our offer plan may need to change in order to achieve our target,” Green said. “[I]f we’re not able to successfully achieve the expected proportion of international students, it will have an impact on the budget.”

The University is also concerned with how the pandemic will impact enrolment of first-generation students.

In 2019-20, 3.9 per cent of incoming students were self-identified first-generation. This year, the University is tracking that number to be closer to 4.6 per cent. 

“[O]ur number of first-generation students has gone up, as have the offers,” Ann Tierney, vice-provost and dean of student affairs, said to Senate. “Of course, we won’t know the results until June 1, which is the acceptance date.”

Tierney said the financial challenges created by COVID-19 are expected to be particularly difficult for first-generation students, and the Office of Advancement is working to provide more funding to bursary programs.

In September, the University launched the Promise Scholars program to provide local youth with a comprehensive financial aid package. They were able to offer the full package to five students and have also come up with other funding to offer a bursary to an additional five local youth.

“The changes to OSAP in previous years have added some challenges for students trying to access [funding],” Tierney said. “[W]e’re hopeful there will be additional OSAP benefits and plans [with COVID-19].”

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