At the present day, no one knows, no matter what they say, how higher education is going to be affected in the future because of Covid-19. This pandemic may force institutions of higher education to shut down completely or try to save themselves through merging with other universities or benefactors. One certain factor is that the majority of universities throughout the world will see a drop-in revenue and potentially in student enrolment for the upcoming fall semester.
No university can say without doubt that they will be able to welcome students safely back to campus in the Fall for in-person classes. This pandemic has caused an economic disruption that will have repercussions for this and the next few generations. As many face a struggle to pay the rising tuition costs of higher education, the global pandemic has not eased fears. In an article on InsideHigherEd by Rick Seltzer, notes that a series of universities in the USA issued tuition freezes, rolling back planned tuition increases for the upcoming academic year. One move that is more significant than what other universities had taken through tuition freezes, Seltzer writes, is by Southern New Hampshire University that rolled out scholarships that would cover for incoming first-year students tuitions. Also, they are the first to introduce a hybrid plan where students can move back into campus housing but attend classes online; thus, they can experience the ‘experiences’ college has to offer.
In another article on InsideHigherEd, Joshua Kim predicts three outcomes for the post-pandemic era for universities. The first prediction is that of the increase in blended learning. This is meant to describe learning that is a hybrid form of Blackboard or other online portals with virtual classrooms like Zoom or Google Hangout that allow for live lectures and seminar sessions. The second prediction Kim makes is that online education will become a core aspect for all higher education institutions. Prior to the pandemic, online education and virtual classrooms were a non-existent aspect for most universities. Post-pandemic, universities will have a greater understanding of planning for, funding and managing online education centralising virtual functions that will be able to support students in their studies. Lastly, the third prediction mentioned is about any partnerships made between online programme management (OPM) and universities. The switch from in-person to virtual classrooms has been an easy process for universities that didn’t rely on OPMs to manage and run their online educational programmes. In the future, these partnerships may be reconsidered as universities will move to centralise their academic and instructional capabilities.
Student dissatisfaction from online classes especially the ones that have been hastily put together by universities that did not dabble in the world of virtual classrooms before will lead into a refusal to pay tuition in the upcoming Fall semester. Private universities whose revenue is heavily reliant on tuition will be hit the hardest and will feel the most pressure from students to begin in-person classes in the new semester. In Burke’s article on InsideHigherEd, she notes that in a survey from the American Association of College Registrars and Admission Officers resulted in 16-21% of high education institutions considering delaying the start of the Fall semester. While some universities may be considering cancelling the semester, most, Burke writes, consider that option to be completely off the table as may have tenure professors and other university staff that need to be paid.
The Fall semester could be normal. No one knows what will happen in the upcoming months, but as uncertainty and a loss of income for many individuals becomes the new normal, universities must be able to adapt to ensure that students can attend higher education classes in the safest way possible. Solutions will vary from institution to institution and country to country, but virtual education in the higher education industry seems to be slowly becoming the new normal. The last few months has resulted in universities having to show a more innovative side as their classes were forced to move into the virtual world. Creative solutions arose as university assistance moved from class schedules to navigating how to get their students home safely. In addition, new tactics had to be used to train professors and adjust curriculums all the while providing an educational university student experience.
The pandemic has forced many to reconsider attending university in the fall as families lose income and paying college tuitions just got a whole lot harder. Since most universities are not capable of housing and teaching thousands of students, all while maintaining a sense of safety and preventing an outbreak on campus, future students are considering deferring their admissions. For many universities, tuition makes up the bulk of their income, and a loss in students will have a big impact. TimesHigherEducation wrote an article listing the six ways that universities have adapted their admission systems in the midst of the global pandemic. From extended deadlines on admission decisions to waived application fees and adjusted entry requirements, universities must change their age-old systems in order to survive. Prospective students have flexible study options as universities work to improve their online learning structure. One thing that is a must for all universities that are still enrolling students for the Fall semester is communication. Universities must convey a clear message to their incoming students, not one that is filled with the technicalities but a more genuine approach.
Learning will go on, albeit displaced in the form of online courses but not discontinued. As you read this article, students across the world are most likely to become more used to talking to their professors through a screen. Having the traditional in-person class structure moved online may be disconcerting, but as institutions of higher education face a never before situation, universities and their students and faculties must face this together. Around the world, universities have made drastic steps to ensure that students have access to online materials with the addition of frequent online classes and connections are made more sincere between higher education institutions, and their current and prospective students. However, a student’s mental health should also be a top priority for all universities. Naturally, students – and faculty members – will have feelings of anxiousness and isolation as universities and social spaces that were once filled with students have shut their doors. Universities must utilise technology and create online groups which can ensure that students have some semblance of contact with their peers. With a multitude of technology and social platforms at fingertip reach, universities are able to adopt tactics like send out e-newsletters or post virtual quizzes and virtual student activities that students can participate in whilst sitting safely at home. Buck’s university has had a few successes in the virtual engagement world with their students. They have hosted a virtual club night, weekly quiz night, and have created a platform called Rusty’s Reads which allows for students and faculty to post about what they are reading and what books they recommend.
The months ahead will bring many difficulties and uncertainty for both current university students and prospective students. There are certain universities whose current organisation isn’t at the top of the charts, and the challenges of operating a university during a pandemic may offer a chance to change the system to ensure the betterment of its students and future handling of crises. In whatever way universities are adapting to ensure that the learning of their students is still being achieved, we at ProWiBo applaud all the professors and other staff in the education sector that have adapted and made online classes possible.
How have you seen higher education change and adapt during Covid-19? Let us know your thoughts in the comments!