College and COVID-19: To Zoom or Resume?

Co-authored by Calla Chung and Emily Kim

COVID-19 has clearly changed the trajectory of education moving forward. Universities are navigating how to safely reopen amidst the uncertainty surrounding the virus. The constant influx of new information requires these institutions to adapt, with the ultimate goal of keeping their students learning. 

What started out as just a safety issue has tangled itself with finances and the quality of education. Since many public universities are primarily state funded, they can continue online instruction with less of a financial burden. The California State Universities, for example, have already confirmed their plans to continue this fall completely online. 

For many private institutions, however, a fully online model is not feasible. Private universities often rely on endowments and donations to stay afloat, and the costly repercussions of staying online could run these universities out of business. 

Financially, students are hesitant to stay enrolled in their university if classes remain completely online. Oftentimes, when these schools advertise themselves, they focus on the sense of camaraderie between students and staff, access to equipment and facilities, and hands-on experiences, —inside and outside of the classroom. These are the qualities that add value and individuality to one’s college experience. Therefore, if traditional experiential colleges want to stay afloat, they need to do all that they can to (safely) preserve just that. A recent Yahoo Finance article warns that If these schools remain closed and rely completely on online learning, online courses at a private university may not be all that different from those at a local community college, or even Youtube …  and students will not be getting their money’s worth. 

This could lead to devastating, long-term consequences for the experiential college system, changing the way we picture the “traditional college experience.” The internet has opened up a plethora of possibilities for education, and most classes and credentials are available online. According to the article referenced above, Jeff Maggioncalda, CEO of the online learning platform Coursera, ultimately there may be “fewer college campuses that people go to, maybe by a wide margin.” This sounds pretty daunting. And so, if the traditional college business model wants to survive, schools must first and foremost assess every possible option to reopen. Yes, online learning can aid in the COVID-era landscape of higher education, but it cannot, and should not, replace the traditional college experience. 

College and COVID-19

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