This Time Really Is Different: The Effect of COVID-19 on Independent K-12 School Enrollments

Benjamin Scafidi, Kennesaw State University
Roger Tutterow, Kennesaw State University
Damian Kavanagh, Mid-South Independent School Business Officers (MISBO)


The COVID-19 pandemic caused a severe economic recession in 2020. Historically, during economic recessions, there have been large declines in independent (private) school enrollments in the United States. Thus, it would be expected that the American independent school sector would have experienced significant enrollment declines between fall 2019 and fall 2020. But this time was different. In our sample, 70% of independent schools experienced increases in enrollment or level enrollments during the Pandemic Recession. In our multiple regression analyses, the main driver of this beneficial change in enrollments for independent schools was whether the public school districts that served their home county were open for only virtual instruction to start the 2020–21 academic year. We find suggestive evidence that a higher prevalence of county-level COVID-19, measured as deaths per capita, was associated with higher independent school enrollments as well. Economic conditions do not appear to have played a major role in changes in independent school enrollments.