By Dr. Bjorn Mercer
Program Director, Communication, Philosophy, Religion, World Languages and the Arts, American Public University
This is the concluding part of a five-part series examining the difficulties of reopening brick-and-mortar schools in the midst of the coronavirus pandemic.
In this final part of this series, we’ll pose difficult questions for higher education along with a reflection of COVID-19 and how education might change over the coming decade.
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There are many questions that have yet to be asked in relation to higher education and COVID-19. Below are just a few:
- Will the bigger universities get bigger because of their ability to raise money through bonds and fundraising? Will smaller colleges possibly move toward merging with similar institutions?
- Can some colleges afford not to have a Fall 2020 semester? What will happen to small- and mid-size colleges that were already in financial danger?
- What will happen if there is no football this fall? How will this affect other collegiate sports?
- How many faculty and staff members will be let go in 2020 and into 2021 to help deal with budget shortfalls?
- Will small, less profitable and less popular majors start to be phased out quicker in 2021 and beyond?
- With so many students forced to go online in the spring of 2020, how many will want more of their classes to go online? What will this do to in-person instruction?
- Will more colleges and universities move to more online offerings to help with budget issues? Online is neither a quick fix nor a cash cow and takes a long time to establish correctly.
- How will the disruption in the 2020-2021 school year change the way colleges and universities approach their calendars? Will they stick to the semester or quarter system or do something else?
- How will recent graduates find jobs in the current poor job market?
COVID-19 Has Changed the World and Education for the Foreseeable Future
COVID-19 has changed the world for the foreseeable future. This pandemic has changed the lives of everyone who is experiencing the effects of the disease. For family and friends who have lost loved ones to COVID-19, the sorrow is real and pain is immense. For those who have contracted COVID-19 and have been ill, the virus has been a horrible experience that will affect their health for months and possibly years to come.
In addition to those who have been impacted by the actual virus, millions of people have lost their jobs as businesses have shut down for a time. Although the unemployment rate has recovered a bit since April, a large number of jobs that have been lost will never return, leaving millions of people without job prospects.
In addition to unemployment, countless businesses, large and small, have filed for bankruptcy due to the economic shutdown. With so much uncertainty in the country, high unemployment and companies going bankrupt, how will students find jobs?
Online Learning Is Perfect for Protecting Colleges and Universities from COVID-19
For all of education, COVID-19 has disrupted the entire industry. Many online skeptics have finally come around to the validity of online education, although it has taken years and the pandemic for some of them to accept this fact.
Online education is perfect for colleges and universities to help protect students, faculty and staff from COVID-19. Faculty can have synchronous meetings, record lectures, create learning materials and recreate their classrooms so students can learn at their own pace.
With the fall semester looking likely to be online and more students choosing to take online classes, faculty members who have not taught online much will now have more time to prepare to give their students a better learning experience. With that said, faculty should not recreate their in-person experience exactly because online, at its best, is asynchronous — or a mixture of asynchronous and synchronous — allowing students to learn at their own pace using a variety of multi-modal experiences.
The Financial Implications of Online Education
Many colleges and universities will face difficult financial shortfalls in 2021 and beyond. There will be more staffing cuts, and programs might start to be phased out. For some smaller colleges, COVID-19 might hasten their demise. In addition, athletic budgets could be affected because, without big-time football and basketball, a great deal of revenue that supports the other athletic programs within the institutions will be lost.
Post COVID-19, every institution of higher education will have to be extremely mindful of its expenditures. Careful planning will need to go into:
- What projects get funded
- What programs are created and expanded
- How online offerings are increased
- How faculty and staff salaries can be adjusted
- How physical buildings should be used and maintained
The Future of Education after COVID-19
Once COVID-19 has passed, there will still be small, medium, and large colleges and universities, but there will be fewer options. Smaller, at-risk institutions will continue to struggle financially, and some of these excellent colleges will close or merge over the next 10 years. Although there is nothing wrong with contraction in higher education, having fewer educational options lessens the diversity of thought that higher education offers.
In addition, the largest universities in each state and region — such as Arizona State University, the University of Central Florida, The Ohio State University, University of Texas at Austin, Texas A&M and others — will only get bigger. They have the ability to further expand their online learning and have access to financing.
Mega universities, however, do not always provide equal or better learning outcomes for students than their smaller counterparts. But much like large corporations, large universities do a good job of marketing their campuses, their sports teams and their local cities to young adults.
Students and parents will have to be very careful which college they choose in the 2020s. They need to make sure that:
- The size of the college fits the personality of the student
- The cost of the college fits the financial ability of the student and family
- The student is ready for four years of learning
- A bachelor’s or graduate degree will directly aid them in their future goals
Finally, don’t assume that a name-brand or elite college is the best option. Go to the school that best meets your needs and fits your life and goals.
About the Author
Dr. Bjorn Mercer is a Program Director at American Public University. He holds a bachelor’s degree in music from Missouri State University, a master’s and doctorate in music from the University of Arizona, and an MBA from the University of Phoenix. He writes about culture, leadership, and why the humanities and liberal arts are critical to career success. Dr. Mercer also writes children’s music.
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