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When universities started asking students to leave their dorms and the campus this spring, it left many students with questions about what the rest of the year would be like. The transition to online learning has been tricky for both students and teachers, with many hoping this will be a temporary solution to a short-term problem.
As students finish the spring semester, how are they feeling about going back to school this fall? Are parents ready to send their children back to campus, or are they more concerned about the health risks?
We talked to students and parents to see how they feel. Our survey covered high school seniors, college students, and grad students, as well as parents of current college students and those with high school seniors.
How Have Emotions Around College Changed?
COVID-19 shook up curriculums for the spring, but how are students and their parents feeling about the future? We asked both students and parents how they had been feeling in January 2020, before COVID-19 had closed down campuses around the nation, compared to how they are feeling about school this fall.
We are seeing similar changing emotional patterns between parents and students as they consider school this fall. Both groups were primarily happy and excited about this next semester, as students and parents should be! But, both emotions have seen major hits since COVID-19, with anxiety becoming the main emotion.
How is COVID-19 Impacting Higher Education Plans?
Of the students surveyed, an overwhelming 76% of students are planning to charge ahead with their plans to earn their degrees. How and where they will be earning their degree seems to be up for debate, especially when asking the parents about fall college plans.
When asked if the COVID-19 situation has made the student reconsider their preferred school, 71% of students said no, but only 41% of parents said no. The disconnect between parents and students is pretty remarkable, so we dug deeper to understand what parents or students might be looking for if they are reconsidering their favorite school for the fall.
Parents who responded to our survey were much more inclined to want change and to see students staying home this fall. “They were going to live on campus but now I believe they may stay home,” said one parent respondent. “It would be best with the virus going around, even if school starts back.” Many parents also mentioned wanting to let their students experience a traditional college experience, but that COVID-19 has them worried about the trade-offs.
For many surveyed, not returning to their preferred school could mean transferring, which comes with its own headaches, or may not even be a viable option for graduate students. As one stated in the survey, “I am committed to a doctoral program, I couldn’t imagine wanting to leave.”
We also heard from a number of parents and students that on-campus jobs were a big driver to return to campus this Fall.
“He is a resident hall advisor,” said one parent when asked if her student would be returning this fall. “She works in the lab doing research. Our only option is for her to live on campus,” said another parent.
Students are Frustrated with Online Learning at Current Tuition Prices
We know students are reporting a high level of anxiety going into the fall, but they also are planning for everything to be back to normal. Very few students are making plans for an entirely online education. “My choice in college was made by the feeling that I got on campus,” said one student. “I’m hoping not to have online classes in the fall.”
“If classes are not offered in-person format, I will feel incredibly reluctant to continue with remote learning, especially if continuing to pay a private school rate at full price,” said one student respondent. Hundreds of students at the University of Chicago feel the same way and have signed a tuition strike against the intuition.
“The crisis has made me financially regretful of having selected a more expensive in-person degree program. I am now paying the tuition cost of an in-person institution but with online instruction (and instructors only briefly trained in online instruction)” echoed another student.
What Questions Do Students and Parents Have for Schools?
University campuses have started to announce that they will be open this fall, but there are still a lot of questions on students’ and parents’ minds.
We also included a free form answer for students and parents to include any other questions we left out. Most parents have questions about health and safety. One parent asked, “What extra measures will you take to prevent students from getting COVID-19?”
As campuses announce they are planning to open for the fall, many have not been able to provide details about how they will keep students healthy and safe when they return.
While parents seem more concerned about the health of their students, students have many other concerns about how COVID-19 will affect their education experience, and making sure the tuition reflects any adjustments in expectations.
We saw a number of comments similar to “will my tuition be refunded or partially reimbursed? Will I have access to facilities there on the campus?” It is important for schools announcing an entirely online education for Fall 2020 that not every student has the resources to take their classes online or have a high-speed internet connection. Not all the resources that a school can provide are easily moved online, such as labs, libraries, and software licenses.
What Will Fall 2020 Look Like for Students?
The overwhelming majority of students and parents surveyed noted that they don’t know how to plan for the future right now. Many are in a holding pattern, waiting for information from health care experts.
“Coronavirus has made us evaluate a lot of things,” one parent replied. “Everything is so unsettled. We don’t know what we are doing about much of anything,” echoed another parent.
“COVID-19 has impacted me financially but I will not change my future goals and plans because of it,” said one student.
Schools are still looking for the promise that students will return to work toward their degree in the form of deposits for the fall. From our survey, we know that students are just as anxious as their parents about what Fall 2020 will mean for their education. Schools that provide answers to some of these key questions will be able to put student and parent minds a little more at ease during this uncertain time.
By Mariam Khan & Carolyn Pairitz Morris
Disclaimer: The opinions expressed by the interview subjects are not necessarily those of Earnest.