The Value of Traditional Higher Education Remains High as Pandemic Shifts Delivery Style
The value of a traditional 4-year higher education degree remains high amid current and future changes to the college experience due to the Coronavirus world health crisis. It has been a very strange spring since medical professionals determined the best defense against the virus means avoiding group gatherings over 10 people. Since mid-March, physical college campuses closed to students, converting all classes to online learning for the foreseeable future. Other unprecedented actions included cancellation of post-season winter sports tournaments as well as spring sport seasons that were never able to truly begin. It is unfortunate in so many ways, especially for the senior class.
But with that being said, we know with every big change comes new opportunities. These opportunities may even evolve the way we do things, perhaps forever. Without a doubt, the higher education system will come out of this public health crisis stronger and better prepared than ever to meet the needs of all students. In addition, these lessons learned from the first pandemic in 100 years will better prepare the higher education sector for any future crises.
As we continue to understand more about COVID-19 statistics, testing, research, remedies and vaccinations to prevent it, tough decisions will continue to be made about the upcoming fall semester and beyond. It is important for colleges and universities to communicate their strategic plans to current and prospective students, finding new ways to reach out and earn their confidence. What shifts that proved successful during this challenging time will be accepted into practice in the future of higher education learning? Three consistent themes in the way higher education is delivered include:
To slow the Coronavirus spread, nearly every person in every state in the country has been asked to stay home (minus essential, emergency and frontline healthcare workers). How can traditional 4-year institutions continue to engage current students and attract future students during this time?
As of June 1st, 1.84 million people have been infected with the Coronavirus and over 106,000 have lost their lives to the virus in the US alone. This creates a need to be able to access campus resources virtually—a campus initiative many universities have been working to achieve. This urgent need is being accelerated so students can access tutors and instructors, take virtual campus tours, purchase books online and message other students virtually, among other support components that require accessibility.
The isolation of higher education students and others will be lifted in phases by state. Some changes may become expected health and hygiene practices “in the new normal” that universities continue to implement into the future. As we continue to learn more about this virus, it may become necessary to modify or shift classes online if there is a second wave or geographic outbreak in a specific area.
According to Steven Mintz in a recent Inside Higher Education article titled, “Reimagining Higher Education Post-Coronavirus,” he suggests “classes in hybrid format should be the end goal for every class a student will take.” This applies to audiences in every situation, such as working students or students with families. The ability to have access to all classes in a traditional and online format allows for higher education entities to weather any type of storm and adapt to meet the needs of the ever-changing student. As a bare minimum, the ability to have teachers record their classes and post them for review is a necessity for students.
Indiana University is also suggesting a hybrid approach to opening classes scheduled for fall 2020, according to an article in Inside Higher Education. The IU President, Michael A. McRobbie, suggested in a letter to the University’s constituents, he would call for “a high-level of flexibility to accommodate rapid change in the course of the pandemic.” This option calls for temperature monitoring, virus testing and having the ability to “contract trace in place,” if a situation arises requiring a focused safety measure for all.
For prospective students, in-person visits may temporarily be on hold, but the ability to virtually speak with current students and advisors and access virtual campus tours is still viable. It is time for schools to revisit their virtual offerings and evaluate areas where they can build a more robust program. Can students virtually visit most of your campus buildings where they will take classes? Are students able to tour your dorms or apartments virtually? Can students walk through your campus online? This is important in the current COVID-19 climate to give you great ways to reach your students digitally now and for years to come. Students who have at-risk health conditions, no matter what age, may have concerns about staying away from others until there is a vaccine in place; the time frame at present is not determined.
Is your current online format already set up for a broader, more accessible teaching approach for serving campus students? If so, the ability for an individual to take classes at the times that work best, anytime, anywhere, allows the student to set up a schedule that suits their needs in the current climate.
During this time of isolation, it will be especially important for the traditional, brick-and-mortar programs to glean a few tactics from these already established online programs. A few popular trends schools are already offering:
- A high quality of online learning. In Mintz’s article, he says, “It is important for schools “to provide instructional design and educational technology support that ensures that these courses attain a high-level of quality.” Students want to feel like they are still learning at the same level they would learn if they were in the classroom. Beloit College offers shorter but more intense classes to make sure they can be more flexible in switching from online to face-to-face classes if need be (Chris Quintana, USA Today).
- Pushing the “whole student” education. During this time, it is optimal for educators to find ways to promote more than just cognitive development. It is important to promote a healthy life and making sure students feel heard during these trying times (Inside Higher Education).
- Collaboration between higher education institutions. Can we collaborate and help others within the overall ecosystem? Sharing course content between different institutions’ teachers and students can allow us to create the best possible learning environment for everyone.
Often students who are given flexibility focus better on their career outcome. Maybe this means they work as an intern and go to school, or maybe this means they can work each semester as they take classes to curb their student loan debt. Higher education institutions are evaluating how to be more flexible as they continue to evolve to attract and maintain students, with goals of increasing student population year-over-year and increasing annual revenue.
The higher education landscape will continue to change. The ability to take everything online this spring has already shown students and teachers alike the possibility of an all-online world. A certain percentage of students seek schools they think will offer them choices because over the course of time their needs may change. Changes due to the pandemic for the short-term hopefully will not change an individual’s long-term goals, but they may. This too shall pass! It is important for students, in my opinion, to still continue to apply to the school they think is best for them. Make sure to document and state your COVID-19 practices on your website. Even if students or faculty are not asking, they definitely want to know how you will address this current critical issue.
Whatever happens in the next few weeks or months, rest assured the value of a higher education degree is worth every penny! Universities and college administrators are evaluating and initiating strategies for returning to campus with the safety of students and faculty top of mind. If you want to discuss ways to reach your prospective students and learn what messages are key to getting their attention during this time, we would love to chat with you.
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