Student Achievement Reports

High-Achieving, Low-Income Graduates in a Pandemic: Results of a National Survey

December 2021

In August and September of 2021, the EdWeek Research Center surveyed nearly 1,500 high-achieving high school graduates from the Class of 2021 to assess the pandemic’s impact on their high school experiences and post-high school plans. The nationally representative survey found that 2021 graduates saw heightened stress along with financial hardship as they enrolled in college, started full-time work, or took on caregiving roles.

The findings included in this report extend the results of a similar EdWeek Research Center study of high-achieving students in the Class of 2020. They suggest that the COVID-19 pandemic has compounded inequities in the college planning process, leading to abrupt changes in plans—particularly for low-income graduates. They also show that the effects of the pandemic on students’ postsecondary transition deepened from 2020 to 2021.

It’s not yet clear whether the postsecondary disruptions brought on by COVID-19 represent short- or longer-term changes in plans for 2021 graduates. Regardless, strengthening non-traditional pathways to college will likely be critical in helping students who graduated during the pandemic find their way back to postsecondary education.

Coverage of the education of exceptionally promising students who have financial need is supported in part by a grant from the Jack Kent Cooke Foundation, at Education Week retains sole editorial control over the content of this coverage.