As COVID-19 continues to disrupt every aspect of modern life, it’s clear that the higher education system will be no exception. Already, colleges and universities across the country have been forced to change how they operate, switching from in-person to online classes, hosting virtual graduation ceremonies, and pushing back their acceptance deadlines from May 1 to June 1.
At this point, it’s unclear how long the pandemic will last, but it’s safe to assume that disruptions to higher education will continue for the rest of the year at least.
Below, we look at several predictions for how colleges and universities — and the students who attend them — will change in the coming months as a direct result of the coronavirus.
More Students Will Chose Local Schools
High school seniors are facing a decision unlike any faced by previous generations.
Under normal circumstances, students would be weighing such things as academic offerings, extracurricular activities, school location/campus setting, and financial aid packages to determine their best fit school. Today’s high school graduates must add to this list fears and concerns related to COVID-19.
Financial aid packages will be weighed heavier than ever. Many parents will not be able to make as large a contribution due to disruptions in their employment status, and students will be less inclined to take out loans given the uncertainty of the job market they’ll be entering upon college graduation.
College location will also be critical. One student made the difficult decision to attend her safety school in her home state, rather than her dream school in NY. She cited a desire to remain close to home in light of the recent pandemic as well as a wish to keep costs low so that she is not saddled by overwhelming debt.
It’s likely that many other students will make similar decisions.
Less International Students with Enroll in US Colleges
Colleges and universities will likely experience a drop in the number of international student freshman enrolling in the wake of COVID-19.
The lack of international students will, in turn, diminish the overall diversity of the student body. Schools that traditionally pride themselves on a large international student body will likely no longer be able to do so. Students seeking a diverse learning experience will be less likely to find one in the near term. Study abroad programs will also be seriously impacted.
As a result, colleges and universities will suffer a financial strain. Many schools are financially dependent on international students who often pay full tuition without the help of financial aid. Without these students, schools will have less financial aid to offer to US students, plunging both students and institutions further into debt.
Gap Years Will Rise in Popularity
Back in 2017 when Malia Obama announced her plans to take a gap year, there was a surge in gap year popularity. With the coming of COVID-19 we may once again see a similar trend among 2020 high school graduates.
Of course, students who elect to take a gap year during the 2020/2021 academic year won’t be doing so in order to travel the world or gain real-world life experiences. Their reasoning will be tied directly to the pandemic.
First, families suffering from job loss and cut hours may be worried that they will not be able to afford tuition costs.
Second, taking time away from school will give the institutions time to implement pandemic plans should COVID-19 (or another virus) continue to sweep the nation. Such plans would include processes for how to regularly disinfect facilities and how to institute social distancing mandates.
Lastly, taking a gap year may provide enough time for the CDC to find and approve of a vaccine.
Online Class Offerings Will Increase
It’s probable come fall that colleges and universities will only offer classes online (at least for the first semester).
Indeed, California state university system has already asserted that they will not be reopening campuses come fall and that learning will remain remote. If this becomes the case across the country, how will these institutions justify tuition costs?
Obviously, students attending classes online, absent the social interaction of the campus, will not want to pay full tuition costs let alone fees for additional services like room and board. Schools will need to adjust their rates — and by extension their budgets.
Some schools — like Boston University and Arizona State University — are already anticipating having to offer online classes this fall, even if students are permitted back on-campus. The reason behind this? Although some students will be willing and able to return to campus, others (including immunocompromised domestic students and international students affected by the travel ban and visa issues) will not.
Semester Start and End Dates Will Shift
In an effort to offset financial losses, some schools will find ways to work around the potential dangers of reopening classes and admitting students back on campus. One such workaround may be adjusting the start and end dates of fall term.
There is already some evidence to support this prediction as several colleges and universities have begun releasing their plans for fall 2020.
For example, Rice University and Notre Dame — among others — plan to streamline fall semesters by eliminating fall breaks. (Notre Dame will also start the fall semester earlier with in-person classes resuming on August 10). Doing so means students will be home by Thanksgiving. The hope is that these shortened semesters will prevent a surge of late-fall infections when a second wave of COVID-19 cases is predicted.
Ithaca College, on the other hand, plans to delay the start of fall term until October allowing the school time to adjust to the changing climate and put in place an action plan to protect students when in-person classes resume.
Some Colleges & Universities Will Close
As a result of previously incurred debt, decreasing enrollment rates, and a lack of continued revenue, many colleges and universities already under pressure will be pushed to the brink and forced to shutter their doors permanently.
This is not the first time in history, however, where we have seen schools forced to close (consider the Civil War and the Great Depression). Although some institutions were unable to recover, others were able to reopen once the economy recovered.
The Education System Will See a Complete Overhaul
The higher education system in the US has been under strain for years, well before the onset of COVID-19.
In an effort to combat declining enrollment rates, colleges and universities have been digging themselves into deeper and deeper debt, relying on tuition and fees to offset the balance.
Ten years ago, 16 percent of total revenue at public schools was attributed to tuition costs. Today, tuition accounts for 22 percent of total revenue. Private schools, meanwhile, went from 29 percent to 40 percent in the same ten year period.
At the same time, students find themselves in a similar position. Due to the steady rise of tuition costs, which have far outpaced the rate of inflation, more and more students are graduating college with enormous debt. As of 2020, total student debt in the US is roughly $1.56 trillion.
The US will be forced now to re-evaluate the entire system. This could, potentially, lead to lower tuition rates, less student debt, and more colleges and universities working in the students’ interests.
Or, things could potentially get worse in the short term.
The Good News for Some US & International Students
In the face of the changing academic landscape, there might be some good news for incoming freshman and high school seniors.
In the face of declining enrollment, students’ reach schools may become more attainable. This is especially true for any international students who decide to come to the US once the travel ban is lifted and for students currently sitting on waitlists.
The increase in online classes may also, in the end, prove advantageous. Students who may have ruled out certain schools due to travel expenses and living costs, will now be able to attend these colleges and universities at a lower rate and from the comfort of their own homes.
How ULS Can Help
If you are an international student planning on applying to US colleges and universities for Fall 2021, we can help. Throughout the pandemic, ULS continues to deliver first-in-class translation services. Working remotely, we are able to facilitate contact-free translations of academic documents including transcripts and diplomas.
Such translations can be instrumental not only in securing a place in the institution of your choice, but also getting advanced placement credit and reducing time and cost to graduate.