Online degree programs check all the boxes
While it’s hard to overstate the sense of loss caused by missed commencement ceremonies or canceled sports and activities, a bigger long-term consequence of COVID-19 is its impact on students’ future plans.
Anyone who was planning to attend college on campus in the fall, from graduating high school seniors to current undergraduates and transfer students, has experienced some level of disruption. Because of the timing and school closures, they’re largely on their own, with limited support from guidance counselors, advisors, or teachers. It’s up to students (and their parents) to figure out what’s next.
So, what are they concerned about? What are their top priorities in a post-pandemic world?
Due to the pandemic, millions of students have seen one or both of their parents furloughed, laid off, or working for a reduced salary. In this environment, the cost of a college education — not just tuition, but also room and board, transportation, meal plans, and other associated expenses — is particularly daunting.
Moreover, even families that haven’t lost income yet are now keenly aware of the possibility of future income loss. As jobs seem less secure and the overall state of the economy appears uncertain, the prospect of taking on debt is frightening. Students and parents want to know how to pay for college without loans.
Enter the option of online degree programs.
Online degree programs are more affordable because there is no cost for room and board, meal plans, transportation costs, and so on. Moreover, asynchronous learning gives students more options to work or take on family obligations (e.g. childcare), helping the entire family’s finances. Students who juggle those commitments find themselves in good company: the Wiley Education Services Online College Students 2019 study found the majority of online degree program students were also employed full-time.
For students who plan to leverage federal aid assistance via federal student loans this year will benefit from the lowest interest rates in history. A recent CNN article stated that undergraduates can expect a 2.75% interest rate on a Federal Direct Stafford loan this academic year, down from 4.53% during the past school year.
When the COVID-19 pandemic hit, colleges had to adapt quickly. Schools that primarily focus on on-campus instruction had to make a rushed transition to emergency virtual instructions (with mixed results). As lockdown orders went into effect, schools emptied dorms (many earning backlash from students and parents), and their ability to proactively communicate with students was tested.
In the wake of the pandemic, students are considering changing their plans, whether that means matriculating at a different school, transferring, or even taking a gap year. For instance, a March 2020 Plexuss survey found that over half of college-bound seniors say they’re more likely than before to stay closer to home, even after the pandemic ends—and more than a third of current undergraduates aren’t sure whether they’ll stay at their current colleges.
Online degree programs are more flexible because a learning management system (LMS) translates courses across digital devices (laptop, tablet, mobile). This allows students to turn almost any location into a classroom, from a beach to a coffee shop to their own bedroom. Moreover, established online learning programs have well-practiced methods for communicating with students proactively and over long distances, and they experienced comparatively little disruption due to COVID-19.
Safety is a top consideration at the moment for nearly every U.S. resident, and prospective and current college students are no exception. A college campus — where students pack into dormitories, crowd into lecture halls, and come and go frequently — is a difficult place to maintain social distancing or slow the spread of an infectious disease.
Online degree programs allow students to maintain social distancing and keep up with their studies even when quarantined or self-isolating. This truly is the gold standard of safety — without sacrificing the quality of education — in a post-pandemic world.
For many students, the solution is online
Graduating seniors, current undergraduates, and transfer students are assessing their options, and rightly so. For many, the right path is to pursue their college education online; the advantages of online learning are in many ways perfect for this moment.
If there’s a silver lining to the current situation, it’s the way innovators are using technology to raise the bar for flexibility, affordability, and accessibility. Online education is not a new phenomenon, and colleges and universities that have been doing this successfully know how to deliver a true college experience within the context of online learning.
This option, particularly now, should be (and increasingly is) very much on students’ radar.