Post-pandemic, what might college education look like and how much might it cost?
College Education in the Post-Covid World
As I write this, we are still in the throes of the Covid-19 pandemic, and it’s early in the school year. Many students of all ages remain at home doing remote learning. But there are also many college students across the country who have returned to campus.
Mounting Financial Pressure
Colleges and universities seem to be facing mounting financial pressure to open up campus, and keep their students on campus even if they are remote learning from their dorm rooms. It’s no wonder. According to the College Board (link opens in new tab), for the 2019-20 school year, average tuition and fees for a public 4-year out of state university was $26,820, and room and board cost $11,510. If school is in session for about 8 months, that’s a monthly cost of $4,791.
College Board also examines how much college expenses increase year over year. According to the same study, public 4-year out of state schools cost of attendance increased by 2.5% from the 2018-19 school year to the 2019-20 school year. In 2019, the average US inflation rate was 1.8% (link opens in new tab), meaning that college costs increased over 38% more than inflation, in just one year.
How can colleges continue having prices like this, if they are only offering remote learning? A major benefit of a college education cited can be considered the experience of living away from home while still in somewhat of a controlled environment – a chance to “practice” being an independent member of society away from your parents. Another major benefit of college is also the relationships students build with each other and mentorships with professors. How can relationships be built in a remote learning environment?
On top of these challenges, and with so many other critical societal and financial factors, fundraising has to be a challenge for many universities at this time. Schools that may have been hanging on before, are now even more impacted since their alumni may no longer be able to support the school with donations at their typical level.
Between a Rock and a Hard Place
So how is a university going to cope? Many schools are discontinuing less popular majors or eliminating whole departments. My alma mater, small liberal arts John Carroll University in Ohio, recently announced (link opens in new tab) the dissolution of the art history department to much student and alumni dismay. But if it’s a choice between eliminating a department or two, vs the whole school being closed, it’s understandable for administrators to choose the latter. But how many of these liberal arts majors can be eliminated before it negatively impacts the entire education offered at the school?
The Future of Higher Education
This New York Times article (link opens in new tab) is from May 2020, and predicts that just a handful of universities will remain after Covid-19 and the move to remote learning. A different perspective, here (link opens in new tab), written by a New York University professor outlines some of the financial impacts felt even by Harvard, but also identifies potential bright spots in remote learning. There are some fascinating and thought-provoking insights to consider, and only time will tell the true long-term outcome of the Covid-19 pandemic on higher education.
It’s too soon to tell, in my opinion, whether remote learning will spark a revolution in how a college education is offered, and the associated costs. But I believe it’s coming.