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How COVID-19 Is Having a Lasting Impact on Higher Education 

Almost every aspect of life as we know it has been impacted by the spread of the novel coronavirus SARS-CoV-2 and the disease it causes, COVID-19. Businesses of all different sizes and in a range of industries have been massively affected, and unemployment is at a high not seen since the Great Depression due to soaring layoffs and furloughs. Breadwinners have found themselves without work overnight, throwing households across the nation into a state of uncertainty. And while banks and lenders have offered financial relief options to individuals affected by the pandemic, these are limited since they need to consider their own risk. 

Higher education is one area that COVID-19 has massively impacted. Colleges and universities across the country are dealing with an unprecedented time of uncertainty as they have been forced to make the switch to online-only programs while dealing with a huge amount of further issues, particularly when it comes to finances and staff sickness. There’s no doubt that COVID-19 is set to impact higher education not only in the short-term but also for years to come. 

Changing the Delivery of Learning

COVID-19 has put pressure on colleges and universities when it comes to reimagining how they deliver a holistic, engaging learning experience to students. This has undoubtedly presented major challenges for institutions that have relied on classroom-based, traditional learning environments for so long, but educators agree that it has also created a big opportunity for colleges to finally break away from old habits and embrace new, modern and relevant learning methods that take advantage of the technology that is now available. 

Some universities, like Suffolk University, already have an online business school and a range of other online programs, putting them way ahead of the game during this pandemic compared to the more traditional institutions who’ve relied on classroom learning for so long. For many colleges and universities, there will be some unintended, but positive consequences of the pandemic including:

  • More online learning options in the future 
  • More traditional, classroom-based colleges will begin offering online learning options 
  • Education to become significantly more accessible as more colleges make the switch to an online course delivery system
  • More online education options for school children, rather than focusing on higher education alone

How Applications and Admissions Are Affected

If you were exploring colleges and planning to apply to study for your degree this fall, you’ve probably already noticed some big changes. For many new students, the whole process is uncertain as they’re not sure whether or not they should still bother applying and many students might be feeling worried about putting applications in for colleges that they have been unable to go and visit in-person due to the pandemic. 

As a result, many students who have been excited to start the process of applying to college or were elated after receiving their acceptance letter may be suddenly forced to change their future plans. We’re certainly going to see more of:

  • Students postponing applications until next year when a vaccine is expected to be available
  • Students taking a gap year rather than starting in the upcoming semester
  • Students choosing to switch to online classes due to concerns for their health

In some cases, colleges may be able to open to students this semester, but with appropriate safety measures in place, such as:

  • Setting up more hand-washing and sanitization stations across the campus
  • Social distancing measures in classrooms such as more space between students
  • Mandatory wearing of face masks and other protective garments
  • Health screenings on campus

Understandably, none of these seem very appealing to students who were looking forward to getting started and experiencing the full student life. It’s likely that while classes and lectures may be able to go ahead with safety measures in place, students will have to go without all the additional experiences of attending college, such as socializing with friends at the student bar, joining clubs and societies, and more. It’s easy to see why more students than usual might opt to take a gap year instead, this year. 

The Impact on International Students

Out of all students planning to enroll in U.S. colleges and universities this upcoming semester, those traveling from other parts of the word are likely to be among those impacted the most. Given that a large number of international students travel to study in the U.S. each year, there is still much uncertainty surrounding the next semester and how this is to be handled. U.S Embassies and consulates are among those institutions impacted by the spread of the novel coronavirus, and if they are unable to reopen relatively soon, this will have a negative impact on processing newly admitted international students’ visa requests. 

One option that has been considered is allowing international students to begin learning online from their home country until it is safe to travel to the U.S. once again, but this brings with it its own set of challenges and issues. Even if international students are able to participate in the first semester classes remotely, they may deal with:

  • Issues with accessing technology
  • Freedom of speech and thought concerns for students in countries with more austere governments
  • Varying time zone differences causing difficulty accessing classes at the allocated time

The likely absence of international students, who pay more on average than domestic students, is also set to have an impact on colleges this semester. It will most certainly lead to a loss in tuition revenue for many educational institutions, who will also suffer from a less diverse student population. Some schools may choose to offer a delayed start to international students, however, their ability to travel and begin or resume their degree studies will largely depend on when the State Department resumes accepting routine visa appointments, which are currently on hold. And even when things return to normal, there is no guarantee that these students will still choose to travel to the U.S. to study. 

Life, as we know it, has changed drastically due to COVID-19, and the education industry is no exception. Has your degree been impacted by the coronavirus pandemic?

About the author

Jamie Moses

Jamie Moses founded Artvoice in 1990

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