The coronavirus has created some questions on what higher education will look like in the future. It is impossible to predict. However, the pandemic will forever change several universities without question. These transformations are already occurring from a financial and social perspective. Furthermore, traditions and admission policies for colleges are being modified to manage the environment of COVID-19.
The changes in higher education due to the pandemic today are going to have a lasting impact for some time. Some of these adjustments will certainly be welcomed while others might not be so positive. The future is unknown, but the challenges and changes are guaranteed.
Higher Education Already Needed a Change
It shouldn’t come as a surprise to most people familiar with higher education that the system already needed some changes prior to the pandemic. Before the coronavirus, numerous families were already starting to question if a college education was still worth the price. With student debt over $1.5 trillion dollars and many college students left with $40,000 or more in loans, questioning the price of higher education has been a valid concern.
Although studies have shown obtaining at least a four-year degree can increase life-time earnings, the odds of success for everyone are not quite as good as they once might have been. I have even written a previous article on the issues with higher education success and student debt- Why Student Loans are a Bad Idea.
No one can argue that getting an education is a bad thing. But when high amounts of debt are added success is only determined by the return on investment. The issue with a college education for some time now is a growing number of college graduates remain underemployed for several years after graduation. Some might never fully reach the monetary earnings a college degree should provide.
The cost of college has increased more than doubling over the last 30 years and the price is no longer always a promise of success. With a growing number of middle-class families having a difficult time getting a child through college, there has been a need for change.
Positive College Changes as a Result of the Pandemic
Not all changes to universities are going to be negative due to the pandemic and some of these adjustments are already being seen with the methods of teaching and choices students are having to make.
Myths Will be Exposed
The modifications made for colleges to survive the coronavirus and the economic downturn associated with it are exposing some of the long-standing fabrications of higher education that are no longer exactly truthful.
First, it is not surprising that most high schools are still teaching college is the only path to financial success. Higher education after all is a business. Although some universities are defined as non-profit, most are looking to make money regardless of whether at the end of their fiscal year they show an actual profit.
High schools and universities want to continue the tradition of teaching young adults that college is a necessity for a good life. This has always been the case even if it means high amounts of student loan debt.
The pandemic is going to likely only further strengthen the enrollment of more young adults going into a trade profession resulting in good earnings at a reduced cost of debt related education. There has already been a growing demand for learning a trade and this trend is expected to continue as more families will be unable to afford a traditional college education.
College Costs Will Be Scrutinized More Closely
Although many students and families have raised concerns over college prices for several years now, the pandemic is only going to question the costs even more. With most students moving to strictly online learning outside of a traditional classroom due to the pandemic, questions are coming up to if the cost to physically attend classes in person provides a better education.
Part of the cost for a college education includes funding for campus life when going away to college. This includes the living expenses for students and the high cost of tuition to fund a university campus. All the buildings, football stadiums, and faculty need to be paid for in some way. Raising college tuition can certainly help. However, now with online learning being more prevalent, those costs would be lower. But for most colleges, the price has not been reduced.
Right now, many college students are raising their concerns about paying the same tuition to attend classes strictly online. You would think there should be a reduced cost for learning away from a standard classroom. Yet, most colleges are not reducing costs to accommodate learning only through the internet and on a computer.
With more students looking closer at the cost of a four-year university and not getting the typical campus life experience, less expensive alternatives for higher education are going to be considered. This might include going to a less expensive state school or even attending a community college for the first two years. I would not be surprised if enrollment in community college increases as a result of the pandemic. Why pay full tuition to experience the traditional college life when you will only be sitting at a computer away from campus?
The result of taking a closer look at college expenses and adjusting to the changes resulting from the pandemic could lower the price of higher education for a lot of people. This can only decrease the amount of college debt in the long run, which is good for the student.
Admission Might Be Less Difficult
Economies and people around the world have had challenges financially related to the pandemic. Universities are no different. With the probable exception of prestigious Ivy League schools, most colleges are going to see some type of reduction in admission. This is at least in the immediate future. For this reason, it might be just a little easier to get into some universities than it was previously.
There is always going to be a demand for getting into an elite school. These institutions will likely have no problem surviving the economic hardships of the pandemic. Most of these schools have more money than they will ever need. Yet, they too will see a shift in attendance. Their overall number of students might increase. The good news with exclusive schools is more students on their waiting lists might get admitted to making up for the drop in funding.
Public state schools might also lessen their standards slightly to allow more students to enroll and be accepted. With a drop in state and federal funding resulting from the pandemic, most colleges will have no choice but to lessen their standards to attract more potential students to retain some type of business.
Prestigious college endowments are down and so is the funding for state universities. These schools will need to make up for financial losses somewhere and student tuition will be one of the places they look.
Negative College Changes Resulting from the Pandemic
Lower college costs, higher acceptance rates, and less student loan debt are certainly some real positive sides to the changes universities are going to experience resulting from the pandemic. However, not all the modifications are going to be positive. This is particularly going to be the case for students that want to enroll in 2020-2021.
Networking and Relationships Will Be Challenging
No one can say when social distancing is going to end. Universities would like to open back up as early as the fall, but even if they do college life will not quite be the same. Until the coronavirus has a vaccine with lower numbers of people getting ill, most of the population is going to be somewhat apprehensive about large social gatherings and events.
Although going to college is primarily for the purpose of getting an education, the real value is in forming the relationships and contacts to get employed after graduation. With today’s technology, there isn’t much that someone could not learn outside of a traditional university classroom. The value of campus life is the interactions that can help with employment. This could be access to faculty members or other students that have connections.
Being required to learn strictly online or limiting contact with other people, this will reduce the social interactions among students and teachers. The cost of higher education will not include as much valuable networking as it once did. This will only devalue the full tuition cost most schools will still be charging.
Quality of Education
There are some experts that would argue the quality of education is reduced when it is provided outside of a conventional classroom. With most universities now providing classes online, this might continue in the future at least on a wider scale previous to the pandemic. Some colleges will likely retain at least some online learning to reduce the overhead of traditional classroom learning.
Not all educators believe the quality of education is reduced by providing only an online learning environment. Yet, most agree at least that not all students will do as well as others. Just like some college students might do better in a standard classroom there are some that will have a better experience strictly online.
Some Students Will Be Left Behind
Probably one of the largest problems with the changes to universities during and after the pandemic is there will be potential students that get left behind. The reasons for these students not making it to college will be related to the financial aspects more than ever.
With less funding for colleges and the many that will experience a drop in admissions, more money will likely be required to attend a college overall. The cost of tuition may not decline but scholarship and grant money might not be as readily available from a decline in government funding putting more of the financial responsibility back on the student.
The decline in the stock market, business closures and layoffs resulting from the pandemic have affected so many people. Financial hardships and prolonged periods of unemployment are changing lives and futures. Families that might have been able to afford college for a family member may not now have the resources available. There will be young adults that planned to go to college only to now not have the money available. This is not only going to prevent some people from going to college now, but it might even limit the choice for future family generations.
Online learning formats now and continuing into the foreseeable future are also going to limit the opportunities for students that rely on university resources, such as the use of the internet and computers. Disadvantaged students are going to have a challenging time and some will be left behind with no opportunity to attend college.
Problems with Current College Enrollment
There will almost certainly be some real changes with colleges after the pandemic ends. But there are also some current adjustments that are particularly challenging for students that want to enroll in the upcoming school sessions.
Visiting college campuses has been largely put on hold with virtual visits being offered. Furthermore, academic admission testing schedules have often been canceled or changed to another date. These disruptions are hurting potential college students now and will cause further issues for many of them for years to come.
Just think about a college student that does a virtual campus visit and then enrolls in a university only to discover they don’t really care for the school. Making a choice on which college to attend right now is much more challenging compared prior to the pandemic.
The pandemic is creating a new college environment for current students, faculty, and administrators. It is hard to know exactly what changes will remain once the pandemic is over, but it is almost certain that things will never really return to how they once were. College and the world, in general, are going to be much different for some time.
There are positive changes occurring with colleges resulting from the coronavirus. However, there are also numerous negative transformations happening. The result is some students are going to succeed while others will likely get left behind. Higher education has had some issues for some time now and one big optimistic change is going to be that most universities will have no choice but to make changes. This includes the adjustments now and planning for the future once the pandemic is over.
Because the rising costs of going to college have gotten out of control, hopefully, the changes most universities make include tuition that is more affordable to attract more students. Keeping the same model of paying the same tuition for going to school strictly online is not going to last.
Colleges will need to adjust their pricing. They will need to do this in order to attract more potential students, but also to say in business. Some universities have not figured this out yet, but I believe eventually they will have no choice but to allow more students at a lower price. If this happens, this could be great for higher education by providing the opportunity for more young adults that desire to attend college.
It is estimated right now that four-year schools could lose as much as 20% of their enrollment for this fall. Colleges need to start listening about the high costs many people are fed up with. Most of the economy is going to be in recovery for some time. Universities are no different. Some might believe they can keep charging high tuition, but I believe they are quickly going to discover most students will not pay the money. This is particularly the case with students that don’t have the financial resources.
There might just finally be more of a competition on pricing for getting an education and this won’t necessarily be a bad thing. Colleges needed a change.