This week, Harvard announced that all course instruction will be taught online for the 2020-21 academic year. The $50,000 price tag will remain.
This is disappointing — especially after surveys found that 75% of college students across 45 colleges in the U.S. were unhappy with the quality of online learning during lockdown:
For many students, a large part of the college experience stepping out of their comfort zone and engaging with fellow students and professors — an experience that is cut short when they are forced to learn from their iPad in their childhood bedroom.
Students from low-income or under-represented backgrounds are disadvantaged even further.
“Even when overall outcomes are similar for classroom and online courses, students with weak academic preparation and those from low-income and under-represented backgrounds consistently underperform in fully-online environments,” reveals Does online education live up to its promise?, a paper written in 2019 by George Mason University professor Spiros Protopsaltis and Urban Institute fellow Sandy Baum.
Meanwhile, wage growth for college graduates is stagnating. Despite the growth of the economy between 2015 and 2018, graduate starting salaries increased by just 1.4 percent during the same timeframe.
For those who do enjoy online learning, the online university experience can be emulated using MIT OpenCourseWare — and it’s completely free.
As universities face pressure to reopen, students suffer the consequences
While demanding that students continue paying full tuition fees, U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) announced that students currently living in the U.S. on student visas will be forced to leave the country if their courses are going online-only this fall.
To keep their visas, international students must take at least one in-person class.
Harvard and MIT have publicly criticized the decision to withdraw visas from students, and have recently sued immigration services.
“The order came down without notice—its cruelty surpassed only by its recklessness. It appears that it was designed purposefully to place pressure on colleges and universities to open their on-campus classrooms for in-person instruction this fall, without regard to concerns for the health and safety of students, instructors, and others,” Harvard University President Larry Bacow wrote in a letter to the Harvard Community.
There are many issues with forcing people to leave the U.S. while they’re still trying to complete their degree in the U.S. Poor internet coverage, large time differences, and inadequate access to resources is just the beginning.
Students living in restricted areas (such as China, Hong Kong, or Iran) may not even have access to some of the required technology as a result of government firewalls. For students studying sensitive subjects that their governments disapprove of, the repercussions could be even more severe.
Students currently living in the U.S. could even find it difficult to get home given that many countries have imposed travel restrictions on the U.S, which is widely considered to be a ‘COVID-19 hotspot’.
A $200k piece of paper no longer holds the power it once did
For most high school students — even those with mediocre grades — college feels like a natural next step. But the job market is changing rapidly, and a degree no longer guarantees a job. Meanwhile, alternatives to full-time employment such as learning to program online or starting a side project are becoming increasingly accessible.
This week it was announced that soon, having a college degree will not be required for federal employment in the U.S. Instead, priority will be given to an applicant’s skills.
If there is something sinister behind this decision, it remains to be seen. On the face of it, it seems like a step in the right direction.