Eleven Ways the Pandemic May Transform the College Landscape Forever

The pandemic has upended our lives and transformed the educational landscape. One lingering question we have is which of these changes will remain after the risk to our health has passed. 

While we would be the first to admit the following is speculation, we have had the good fortune to listen to 170,000 college parents for the past 6 months and through them (and our own kids) have some thoughts about the ways in which college life may be forever altered. 

Covid has transformed college and, in some ways, these changes might be permanent. (Twenty20 @titovailona)

Eleven ways the pandemic could change college forever

1. How Did Colleges Respond?

Going forward, parents will look at the ways in which colleges handled their students and their larger community during this crisis. This pandemic response will be viewed as a proxy for a school’s institutional values.

Did they bring back students too hastily to make money? Were they generous with housing refunds? Did they help students who couldn’t get back to campus to pick up their belongings or who got sick? Were they creative in their solutions to continue to provide students with the best possible education? How we all behave at the worst of times says so much about us, and for colleges this period has been dire.

2. Plan B and C.

Parents will send their teens off to college with plan B and plan C whether that student is going abroad for a semester or an hour away to a local college. Never again will we say a tearful goodbye at drop-off and not have a back up plan for how our college student will return home during a national emergency or natural disaster. The impossible now seems likely, even probable.

3. Kicking the College Tires.

We saw how fast unemployment can rise and how quickly colleges can find themselves in dire financial straits. Parents will think much harder before investing in their students’ education. All of this is made much easier by far more accessible information. When you buy a house you do a series of inspections, the equivalent which might include the colleges’ financial state, the likelihood of 4 years of financial or merit aid, the job prospects of its graduate will become a normal part of kicking the tires.

4. No More Snow Days.

No more snow days or canceled lectures or classes. As a parent this is a deeply sad change, there is nothing quite as wonderful as letting your teens roll back over and go back to sleep or knowing that your college student can linger longer in their warm dorm bed, but Zoom has potentially destroyed this winter treat forever. 

5. A Degree May Look Entirely Different.

With added flexibility students may begin to put together an education, not just a degree. With dual enrollment, online classes and boot camps students can gravitate toward getting the best education they can wherever they want. After a year or more of studying online, it will become second nature to Gen Z and they will gather the education they need.

A degree may look less like 4 years in one place doing one major. More students will partake in practical courses and learning for certifications like the program that Google is offering (an 18 month certificate). A common question we hear parents asking each other is “how did you, or your recent grad, actually use your major or degree?”

Parents are delving deeper into likely outcomes for the big investment they are making in education. They are looking more closely at institutions, majors, extracurriculars, and internships and they way the impact their student’s value on the job market. Part of the new flexibility will be that students who want to spend a semester learning remotely at some point for whatever reason will be able to

6. Sample Colleges Online Before Matriculating.

If the academic outcomes of this fall are not dire, or even turn out to be acceptable, in the future students might sample colleges before deciding to fully jump in. We can imagine a time when high school seniors take or audit a college class or two to find out if they are a good fit for a school. It is a much better gauge than a one-day visit with a freshman who may not know anything about your intended area of study. 

7. Stay Closer to Home.

Going farther away from home has already lost some allure as the expense of travel compounds college costs and the risk of needing to get home quickly is still fresh in our minds. 

8. School Food Services.

School dining may be forever changed. Can any of us really foresee a time when everyone is digging into the salad bar at the same time? We will see more individually wrapped meals and fewer communal dining experiences.

9. Stay Home When Sick.

Hopefully, we have all learned to put a premium on health. Kids will stay home when they are sick and taking time off to get well will be acceptable.

10. Better Options for Kids Who are Stuck at Home.

There will be better schooling options for kids when injured or chronically ill. Kids will be able to log in remotely when they have the strength and interest to do so but are unable to be physically present. Likewise, students who may not respond well to the typical college environment (like high anxiety, or special needs) may be able to participate in at least part of the college experience from a safe environment.

11. Move-in Day.

College move-in may be forever altered. Many of the parents we spoke to preferred the ability to make an appointment for move-in. There were fewer crowds and more parking and it’s actually better to have a time limit on what can sometimes be an agonizingly long move-in day.

Living with this virus is new for all of us and the only thing we know for certain is that on the other side of this things will be different. From what our parents tell us, there are some changes that are positive and will remain when the pandemic has passed.

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About Lisa Endlich Heffernan

Lisa (Endlich) Heffernan is the co-founder of Grown and Flown, the #1 site for parents of teens, college students and young adults, reaching millions of parents every month. Lisa is a New York Times bestselling author.
She started the Grown and Flown Parents Facebook Group and is co-author of Grown and Flown: How to Support Your Teen, Stay Close as a Family, and Raise Independent Adults (Flatiron Books) now in paperback.

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