Like many of us, higher education didn't see the COVID-19 train coming. For many colleges and universities, the effects of the economy on enrollment had them distracted. Some were trying to figure out how to walk the fine line between costs and recruitment.
We all know how quickly college costs have been rising, outstripping inflation by a significant margin. CNBC explains one of the chief reasons for that: Declining public funds have caused college tuition to skyrocket, leaving many families either with insurmountable student loan debt or unable to afford a higher education altogether, according to a new analysis by the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities.
Of course, more than a few students and families have had second thoughts about loan debt. Those second thoughts have led to alternate educational paths, such as vocational training, coding bootcamps, military service, or direct entry into the workforce, where possible. Thus, for many colleges, the battle for enrollment proved to be consuming. Then came COVID-19.
COVID-19's arrival turned college life upside down spring semester. Colleges sent their students home and amazingly turned their in-person courses into virtual ones. Support personnel and staff who remained on campus underwent a radical cultural change, implementing complex safety precautions in hopes of ridding and preventing viral spread. Imagine trying to meet the guidelines from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Here's just a portion of what colleges were told to avoid:
Use of public buses, campus buses/shuttles or other high occupancy enclosed vehicles with limited ventilation and/or that require students, faculty, or staff to have sustained close contact with others …
These are just some of the requirements colleges have had to meet in order to bring back students this fall. Some schools have been more successful than others in doing that. In light of all the reports I've seen on College Confidential forums from students and parents about how well pandemic management has been going on various campuses, I've often wondered how colleges have seen their own efforts, whether good or not so good. That's why I was intrigued to see the results of the latest Kaplan survey. Here are some highlights, taken from Kaplan's press release, along with some of my bold emphasis:
When evaluating how they reopened their campuses this fall amid coronavirus, most colleges and universities acknowledge that they have not earned high marks, according to a new Kaplan survey of admissions officers at over 300 institutions of higher learning across the United States.
[301 admissions officers from the nation's top national, regional and liberal arts colleges and universities – as compiled from U.S. News & World Report – were polled by e-mail between September 16 and September 29, 2020. Percentages are rolled up to the nearest whole number.]
When asked to give a grade to their industry's 'reopening' performance as a whole, taking into account factors like implementing new safety precautions, delivering courses, and communicating with students and parents, only four percent gave an A; 36 percent gave a B; 51 percent, a C; 9 percent, a D; and one percent, an F.
The survey, which spanned two weeks from mid- to late-September, was conducted amid reports of coronavirus outbreaks at several large universities across the country. It came at the same time when some schools, which had decided to conduct classes in-person, did an about face and instead moved to strictly online.
Admissions officers who gave reopening a poor grade shared the following anecdotes and opinions:
Admission officers who awarded above average scores shared the following:
In regards to the survey's results, Kaplan's executive director of college admissions programs, Isaac Botier, notes:
"We know how challenging a time this has been for everyone on the higher education landscape, from administrators, to health officials, to faculty and staff, to students, to parents and everyone else that is part of a college community. To say that the past six months have been 'unprecedented' would be an understatement.
"What college admissions officers are telling us in this survey is that there is a lot of room for improvement in multiple areas, from education delivery to communication to safety procedures. We think this self-awareness is positive, and many shared plans on how they'll be making improvements in the coming weeks and months. Fundamentally, they all understand that safety comes first."
For the colleges that were disappointed in their reopening performance, I think they believed students would suppress their social ("partying") instincts, as one comment above reflects. More Kaplan surveys will be forthcoming to explore other aspects of this unprecedented academic year.
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