US higher education

26 Apr 2020

Will the coronavirus change US higher education?

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The novel coronavirus pandemic could be the event that fundamentally reshapes US higher education. Most colleges and universities have closed their campuses for the rest of the semester, with milestones like graduation ceremonies canceled and classes moved online. Some American colleges have already permanently closed their doors or suspended admissions because of the pandemic. So far, these are small colleges with pre-existing financial woes. But other schools are likely to follow in their footsteps as economic pressures grow.

Part of the coronavirus relief package passed by Congress and signed by President Trump suspended payments on federally-held student loans through the end of September. Less funding for financial aid will mean fewer enrollments, which in turn will mean less tuition income. It is a snowball that keeps growing.

US higher education
See what is happening to US higher education after COVID-19. (Source: New York Times)

What to expect in the US higher education in times of COVID-19

A permanent shift from US higher education toward online education could be a good option for this moment. The merits of online education are its convenience and economy for students and school alike, but it’s very difficult to replicate the vibrant learning environment of an engaged classroom online.

Although, what’s left is a series of ad hoc and largely aimless online assignments and herky-jerky Zoom meetings. There will be no prom or internship. Graduation almost certainly won’t happen, at least not in June, when it was originally scheduled. If it takes place at all, it will probably be online, with extended family staying safely at home.

And, what will be of college in the fall? Schools are already talking about delaying their fall semesters or running them entirely online. “Paying tuition for my son to stare for months at his laptop screen in his bedroom at home?” That doesn’t sound smart. So, maybe my son will take a gap year. 

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Things are far worse for those graduating from college this spring. On top of the vanished rite of passage, these graduates will face a non-existent job market, with the overwhelming majority of them left to languish for months or even years trapped in an antechamber separating their educations from their careers. The economic peril is serious, but so is the psychological torment.

Faced with a pandemic, in addition to the deaths of people, we have to deal with economic and psychological damage. Faced with a pandemic, we have every reason to think we’re not doing the best to save our students and universities. The novel coronavirus pandemic is changing badly the US higher education.

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