By Maya Cynkin
The coronavirus has changed the lifestyle and learning of students all across the world. Colleges in America have made various changes to adapt to the pandemic, such as closing their campuses, moving classes online, not requiring standardized tests for admissions, using a pass or fail grading system, and more.
The pandemic has caused several logistical issues for college students this school year. For instance, students who were living in dorms on campus were told to leave and return home, however some might not have had a home to which to return. This causes a large disadvantage for low-income students, as they rely greatly on paychecks from on-campus jobs and pre-paid meal plans, to which they no longer have access at home. These changes have required many college students to juggle their physical well being with possible food insecurity, financial stress, housing concerns, and a lack of resources to complete their academic work. Erica Riba, director of higher education and student engagement at the Jed Foundation, says that this is impacting the mental health of students, leaving many to suffer from “feelings of loneliness, isolation, increased anxiety, sleeping troubles, and difficulty concentrating on schoolwork.” A senior girl at B-CC said, “it is so hard to learn over Zoom, so I’m stuck teaching myself AP level classes which stresses me out to no end. It’s also hard to not see your friends everyday like we used to.” A B-CC senior boy had a different outlook on the mental health aspect of online school, and said, “Yes it has [impacted me], but in a good way. I have more free time so I have more time to focus on myself like going to the gym and also more time to relax.”
Almost all universities provide free Wi-Fi connection to every student on campus; however, that access is not currently guaranteed since they are now working remotely. This creates another challenge that is a result of switching all classes from in person to an online format: students not having access to high-speed internet. To allow students to attend online class, turn in assignments, and do research, students need reliable high-speed internet access. Learning online is significantly easier for students that have strong academic backgrounds, reliable internet connections, and sufficient technology. To try to solve this issue, the Federal Communications Commission launched the “Keep Americans Connected Pledge” on March 13, 2020 to ensure that Americans do not lose their broadband connectivity as an outcome of the changing circumstances. Some of the major companies that have agreed to the pledge are AT&T, Charter, and Verizon.
Despite the fact that all of the previous matters are a large concern, they are only temporary issues for this school year. There are multiple changes being made in colleges around America that could potentially stay forever. One aspect of college life that many predict will change following the pandemic is housing, specifically fewer roommates and emergency quarantine dorms. Multiple schools have announced that they are going to attempt to make campus housing less dense in the future. This means there will no longer be typical small college dorm rooms crammed with several roommates. There will also be some dorm rooms set aside for any positive coronavirus cases on campus. An example of one college that said they would take these measures is George Mason University. They announced that student housing will be reduced by about 25% in order to decrease the number of students in high-density spaces. They are going to increase the number of single dorm rooms and create open housing in case students need to be isolated.
Another change that has been predicted to continue more often in the future is digital textbooks. A senior student at B-CC said, “I prefer actual textbooks, but also having an online one is helpful just in case you need a textbook on your phone.” A B-CC junior girl said, “I honestly think it won’t have an impact on me personally; it’s better for the environment, it’s easier to carry around multiple textbooks at once, and it doesn’t really change how effective I learn versus a hard copy.” Online textbooks also level the playing field from a socioeconomic viewpoint, as many students don’t buy actual textbooks because they can’t afford them. This being said, there could also very well be increased inequality in the future. Many fear that the pandemic will worsen existing inequalities among college students. Historically, students who do not need financial assistance have an easier time getting into schools that rely on tuition revenue, but now that colleges are facing additional coronavirus-related costs and many schools are desperate to keep their enrollment numbers up, it will be even easier for well-off students to get into many colleges.
When schools were forced to close their campuses and move classes online in March, essentially all college students became online learners. Michael Horn, co-founder of the Clayton Christensen Institute, and others, anticipate that more students will choose to learn online in the years ahead as a result of the pandemic. Lastly, there will be fewer international students. Due to coronavirus-related international travel restrictions and difficulties acquiring student visas, it is likely that less international students will study in the United States. The American Council on Education predicts that the number of international students will decrease by 25% next year, resulting in a revenue loss for institutions of $23 billion.
The pandemic has largely impacted universities and college students, and most people would agree that the majority of these changes are negative. Some are temporary, and unfortunately might just affect this year’s freshman in college, but some are predicted to still be present in the far future.