Pandemic influences student life after college

Ever since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic, life on many fronts as we’ve known it has been upended. None more so than the tailspin experienced by college students.

Not knowing when they will be allowed back on campus at schools nationwide has added to their already elevated level of stress. Students must quickly make a difficult decision – either continue their studies online for the foreseeable future, or wait it out until on-campus instruction resumes.

Either way, the current state of affairs is not what students, and their families, signed up for. COVID-19 has dealt them an unfair hand with their college plans, as these should be some of the best years of a young person’s life.

Precautions have gone to such an extreme, in order to avoid spreading the virus, some schools are even turning to virtual graduations. Joliet Junior College is one of those schools, having offered their first ever virtual commencement ceremony for Spring 2020 graduates. More information, such as the graduation program, can be found at jjc.edu/graduation.

Adjusting to college life after COVID-19 has been nothing short of strenuous. More than 5,000 institutions of higher learning have had to scramble in a very short period of time to put their courses mostly online for more than 20 million college students across the country.

Joliet Junior College has been no exception in rapidly responding to the COVID-19 pandemic, as almost all courses are now only taught online through at least the spring semester. This has caused many students to either postpone their degree and certificate programs or abandon them altogether.

But the latest academic research shows these dramatic changes we’ve seen on American college campuses’ may not be short lived. Students may have to adjust to these changes for the long haul as online learning becomes a larger part of a school’s new business model.

Along with online learning comes other new changes to academics. Students can expect to see less use of traditional hardcover textbooks, in favor of more digital books; fewer international students due to travel restrictions, which only exacerbates a school’s finances since foreign students usually pay a tuition premium; and fewer students living on campus as more dorms will be converted into single room occupancy.

The divide between rich and poor may become even more prevalent as students who can pay their full tuition bill with cash may be favored versus those needing financial aid as school’s finances become strained now more than ever.

Ironically, as students are being forced to take only online classes, they may tend to get used to not ever being in a classroom again. So online courses may become even more popular as students enjoy the convenience of learning on their own time from the comfort of home.

But can students be expected to pay the same amount for an online class as they would for one in a classroom? There have been several studies predicting smaller colleges especially won’t be able to survive lower revenues from declining enrollment and may either have to merge with another institution, consolidate academic offerings and drop less popular choices, or close altogether.

Which leads us back to community colleges such as JJC. According to national statistics, about three in four college students are over the age of 25 and are considered non-traditional. So two-year schools may be a naturally better fit for them with the convenience of online learning, along with a physical campus close by which may actually work better for working adults with families.

Two-year schools also usually have greater course flexibility and are more price sensitive – all the more important as millions of Americans have recently been thrown on the unemployment rolls and are looking to be more marketable in an ever more competitive job market.

COVID-19 may end up sharpening the competition among college admissions officers. This is a potential area where community colleges such as JJC can excel by concentrating their marketing efforts in a few key areas: value, alternative learning, and job placement.

Value emphasizes how the cost of higher education getting even higher, students must know they are getting the most bang for their tuition buck.

Online courses are here to stay, and it will not only be important to offer quality courses tailored to this new medium. Alternative learning on a computer needs to be easy and accessible to technology disadvantaged students.

Students will be more sensitive to how their education will, upon graduation, help them land gainful employment. A college education will become more than just about learning. As more people graduate that means there will be increased competition among students for the most sought after companies.

But regardless of your college of choice, there is only so much that online learning can offer. Computer courses can’t take the place of research, scientific experiments, student/teacher relationships, and the performing arts. There is also so much more to the college experience than books such as a vibrant campus life with student clubs and sports. But regardless of how much longer the COVID-19 pandemic lasts, college life in all its forms will never be the same.