Will College Be “Worth It” in an Age of Remote LearningWith the future of higher learning still up in the air as colleges and universities consider partially reopening — or maintaining the shift toward remote learning for the indefinite future — the question of whether college is “worth it” during coronavirus lingers in the minds of many matriculating students.

Such was the case for Kyra Wu, who had previously planned to pursue a master’s degree in environment and development at the London School of Economics (LSE) this fall. 

“Before, LSE wouldn’t tell us anything on how classes would be held,” Wu indicated. “Over the last few weeks, they’ve said it going to be a hybrid education, with all lectures online and a once-a-week seminar.”

“Since LSE is also refusing to lower tuition, it’s made me and many others consider attending next year instead,” Wu adds.

Wu’s not alone in this reconsideration. Recent high school graduate Evelyn Whiting also expressed reticence with regard to her fall plans of moving from her home in Kentucky to Arizona in order to attend Grand Canyon University.

“If the university opens up by the fall, I’ll be moving there,” Whiting said. “As of right now, COVID-19 cases in Arizona are some of the highest in the country, so I might be staying in Kentucky and doing online school.”

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Such apprehensions and reconsiderations reflect the precarious state of education during a pandemic.

And this is especially as novel coronavirus hospitalizations appear to be spiking in seven states, according to the Johns Hopkins University’s coronavirus tracker. But LSE isn’t the only university contending with the difficulties of educating throughout COVID-19. 

The City University of New York (CUNY) indicated this week that the institution was still undecided as to whether courses would resume normally this fall — even though New York City, a former epicenter for the virus, has seen a dramatic decrease in cases over the last two months. 

“Because of the fluid and variable nature of the recovery and reopening efforts, no decision has been made yet about the possibility for [the] resumption of on-campus instruction,” CUNY said in a statement

Elsewhere in the country, the University of California Los Angeles (UCLA) announced last Monday that only 20 percent of its classes would be offered “on-site or in hybrid format,” leaving the majority of instruction to be done remotely.

Despite these changes, UCLA will maintain the current cost of tuition, echoing the decisions of many universities to either freeze or in some cases increase, the cost of learning. Four-year colleges saw an average tuition increase of $230 between 2019 and 2020, according to the College Board, and so far few universities have publicly committed to scaling back the already-high price tag of attaining a degree.

Given that the return to pre-pandemic classroom instruction may not be possible until the development of a vaccine, prospective students must consider whether the quality of education they’ll receive is worth the price of tuition come late August. 

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Is College Worth It During Coronavirus?

Ultimately, the decision of whether to continue your education during a pandemic will boil down to your learning habits, how your university is adapting to a continuously changing environment, and the alternatives available.

How Are Colleges Adapting?

Higher education institutions have shifted in a number of ways since the start of the novel coronavirus pandemic. Here’s how most schools are approaching classes in the fall of 2020: 

  • Fully remote: Instruction and assessment is conducted via Zoom or a similar conferencing service. While effective in emulating the lecture hall setting, some students may have trouble receiving information as effectively when educating is done via a computer.
  • Hybrid: Instruction is provided both online and in person, reducing the amount of time spent in close proximity to others and reducing the possibility of infection.
  • In person: Classes continue as normal, with additional distancing and personal protective equipment requirements, though as the situation progresses and the possibility of a second wave remains, educating in this manner might still be risky. 

If you feel that you can receive a quality education and digest it effectively, pursuing your degree online or in a hybrid setting can be a viable option during coronavirus. 

“I’ve had to move many of my classes online due to the pandemic, and have had the chance to speak to many students about their future plans,” says Cambridge College adjunct professor Ron Stefanski. “The general consensus is that in-person classes aren’t worth attending now that they have become accustomed to online and remote-based learning.”

That said, the “college experience” is far more than just the instruction. If your campus is indefinitely shut down while we wait for the curve to flatten, it might be worth your money to wait it out, especially if there’s no decrease in tuition.

“For those that really feel they need the physical experience of attending university, it’s probably best to delay your enrollment until the spring of 2021,” Stefanski adds. “We still don’t have enough information to know if there will be a second wave of COVID-19 soon, so it’s best to be cautious before committing the funds to attend college.”

As such, students may want to consider bolstering their academic portfolios by taking individual, specialized courses online, or examining what free courses they can take in the meantime to improve their professional skill sets. 

As a final consideration, some students may benefit from looking into programs closer to home, which can include local universities and community colleges, as a way to earn credits while coronavirus continues — though they should also maintain their commitment to attaining a four-year degree as it relates to their long-term earning goals

“It’s been a professional goal of mine for the last few years to go to grad school at some point, and the pandemic has pushed me toward applying to a program in New York instead of London,” says Kyra Wu. “The value you’re getting for what you’re paying, for me to go all the way to London to be on Zoom all day, it just doesn’t seem worth the cost anymore.”

Only time will tell how universities and colleges will adjust to novel coronavirus. Stay up to date on the latest developments by following CentSai’s COVID-19 page.

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