How has the coronavirus crisis has impacted education? What will students trend towards and how can colleges, universities, and alternate learning programs adjust their solutions and messaging? 

Current State of Education

Coronavirus may have sent students home early, but on the other side of this crisis is a chance for a reimagining of “traditional” education: skill-specific online courses, shorter degree timelines, and a more flexible approach to higher education, combining community college, online, and four-year institution education programs. Those with the greatest chance of weathering the storm will be those adopting flexible learning options, technology solutions, and – especially – online learning.

Here’s the current numbers

  • U.S. colleges are predicting $100 million losses for the spring along with millions in lost ticket sales as athletic seasons were cut short (AP News
  • A higher education trade group has predicted a 15% drop in enrollment nationwide, amounting to a $23 billion revenue loss. (New York Times)
  • SimpsonScarborough predicts a possible 20% decline in domestic undergraduate enrollment for 4-year institutions.

Technology Adjustment and Rise of Online Education

Colleges and universities have already recognized the importance of incorporating technology into learning programs. Even before COVID-19, there was already high growth and adoption in education technology, and this will only increase post-coronavirus crisis. And language apps, virtual tutoring, video conferencing tools, or online learning software, have seen a significant surge in usage since COVID-19 (WeForum).

  • Education providers will increase their tech budgets by 5.9%. Demand for education services is still strong, but disenchantment with the results of online education has introduced caution into tech investments. (Forrester)
  • Cengage has seen a 55% increase in the number of students who have signed up for free subscriptions to its online textbooks. (New York Times)
  • The New York Times predicts that faculty will permanently incorporate online tools (to which many are being exposed for the first time) into conventional classes.
  • The overall market for online education is projected to reach $350 Billion by 2025 (WeForum)

Online learning and community colleges will fare the best

Online Learning Institutions Can Teach Colleges Something

Online learning works well for developing specific skills and second careers/career pivots, but many institutions are still working out the kinks (to put it mildly). Among those that have mastered online learning are dedicated online institutions like Coursera and Udacity, who also partner with universities and companies. They tend to offer a mixed model of free and paid-for learning options of varying lengths. “Digital-skills jobs will be where there is greatest demand,” Mr. Maggioncalda said, “and those jobs will be less likely to be affected by pandemics in the future.” (New York Times)

  • Udacity courses take most students four to six months to complete, if they put in 10 hours a week. The average cost is $1,200. (New York Times)
  • Coursera collaborates with 200+ universities and companies, including Duke University and Google, according to their website
  • Before the pandemic hit, Coursera projected growth of 30% this year to more than $200 million. (New York Times)
  • Fewer than 10% of Coursera students pay for courses; they take them free.(New York Times)
  • 60% of students in Coursera degree programs try free courses first. (New York Times)

 

Students Are Willing to Move Online 

Those that do offer online courses are ahead of the game, offering cost-saving convenience and safety. Real online education lets students move at their own pace and includes such features as continual assessments so they can jump ahead as soon as they’ve mastered a skill, according to Eric Fredericksen, associate vice president for online learning at the University of Rochester. (New York Times)

  • About a third of surveyed students plan to enroll in an online college post-COVID (SimpsonScarborough)
  • 15% College students who, when given the option to finish their degree online or complete their degree in-person, want to finish online (SimpsonScarborough)
  • More than half of American adults who expect to need more education or training after this pandemic say they would do it online, according to a survey of 1,000 people (Strada Education Network)
  • Minorities are disproportionately affected by the financial impact of the coronavirus crisis: 41% (vs. 24%) of minority high school seniors won’t attend college in the fall and 18%  (vs. 13%) will finish college online (SimpsonScarborough)

Traditional Colleges Need to Improve Their Online Learning 

If traditional colleges plan to permanently adopt online learning, they have some learning to do themselves. Studies show that students aren’t as happy with the online experience – namely, that they don’t feel they are learning enough or that the quality matches the in-person learning experience. Still, online higher education “is a thin diet for the typical 18-year-old,” said Richard Garrett, the chief research officer at Eduventures. “But today’s 18-year-olds are tomorrow’s 28-year-olds with families and jobs, who then realize that online can be useful.” (New York Times)

Part of the issue is the time and resources it takes to build out a successful online course; COVID left many scrambling to catch up, exposing weaknesses.“Developing a genuine online course or program can consume as much as a year of faculty training and collaboration with instructional designers, and often requires student orientation and support and a complex technological infrastructure.”  (New York Times)

  • 75% of students said they don’t think they’re receiving a quality learning experience online (OneClass via New York Times
  • 67% of college and graduate students said they didn’t find online classes as effective as in-person ones (niche.com poll via New York Times, April)
  • A few top-tier universities, such as the University of Michigan and the Georgia Institute of Technology, already offer some full degree programs through online platforms. (New York Times)

 

Cost-Saving Community Colleges Will Grow (Even More) in Popularity 

There is already a growing trend of students starting college by way of a community college first to complete general requirements before transferring into a more rigorous four-year institution. It saves money and time.  For those financially strained after the crisis, the community college choice is a no-brainer, even for the remainder of school, as well. Administrators anticipate that students grappling with the financial and psychological impacts of the virus could choose to stay closer to home, go to less expensive schools, take a year off or not go to college at all. (New York Times)

  • 26% of college students said they were unlikely to return to their current college or university in the Fall.  (SimpsonScarborough)
  • 5% of high school seniors and 4% of current college students say they will enroll at a different institution (SimpsonScarborough)
  • Nearly half of surveyed students plan to attend a community college due to the crisis  (SimpsonScarborough)

Messaging Suggestions

We’ve said it before: build trust. Be present, offer solutions with prudence and sensitivity, and pay special attention to cost and technology capabilities.

  • Be mindful of cost: advertise low-cost and flexible learning options, as well as free trials.
  • Advertise the advanced nature of or improvement of your online learning program capabilities; many students are disillusioned with “Zoom learning”
  • Offer free or discounted learning tools such as online textbooks to help offset costs of learning further.
  • Be sensitive to the changes and mindful of coming off tone-deaf; offer hope and promise of a better future. 
  • Over-communicate: 69% of college students who say their institution’s COVID-19 communications are fair or poor have a worse opinion of the school than they did before the pandemic hit  (SimpsonScarborough)

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