Don’t Sound the Death Knell for Colleges—They’ll Bounce Back

Don’t Sound the Death Knell for Colleges—They’ll Bounce Back
(AP Photo/Matt York)

Some people have argued that the rise of remote learning and Zoom during the Coronavirus crisis shows that residential and on-campus learning is obsolete and unnecessary. NYU Business professor Scott Galloway recently told James D. Walsh of New York Magazine that the future of college education was in jeopardy, especially for non-elite universities. 

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Galloway indicated that college would be a substantially degraded and less compelling product that would have trouble recovering from the coronavirus crisis and that many universities would be forced to go out of business. He said, "It will be like department stores in 2018. Everyone will recognize they're going out of business, but it will take longer than people think. There will be a lot of zombie universities. Alumni will step in to help. They'll cut costs to figure out how to stay alive, but they'll effectively be the walking dead. I don't think you're going to see massive shutdowns, but there's going to be a strain on tier-two colleges."

Others, including Bill Gates, have hyped online learning for years and suggested that on-campus education will become less important. 

However, I think that it's just the opposite. Yes, colleges will suffer during the next year until a coronavirus vaccine is found. However, this coronavirus nightmare will make college students yearn to once again experience in person learning, especially being away from home and living on campus.

Zoom, Canvas, and other online teaching tools are very effective. Professors can hold live or recorded discussions, host online message boards for students to comment on, host guest speakers, show instructional videos, have breakout rooms where students can work in groups, and administer tests. Some students might prefer online learning to in person classes. From a pure educational aspect, there are some classes that can work as well online as they do in person. For the next academic year, online remote learning makes sense to protect the health of students, faculty, and staff.

However, in the long run, online learning can't replicate the on-campus experience that gives universities their main value. These include playing varsity sports, belonging to fraternities, participating in school plays, involvement in the school radio station, television station, or campus newspaper, attending football and basketball games, participating in charity events, and going to campus parties. Virtual online beer pong doesn't cut it. Even commuter students can get involved in these activities, although they don't live on campus. Participating in extracurricular activities makes students more likely to enjoy their college experience and more likely to be connected to the school.

Living in a dorm gives young people independence. It teaches them how to get along with different types of people from all over the world. They meet new people and develop a network of friends, some of whom they'll keep in touch with for life.

The coronavirus nightmare won't last forever. While the 2020-2021 academic year will be hindered due to a second wave of the virus, there is a reasonable chance a vaccine could be developed in the next six months.

It’s true that college is extremely expensive, and online education could provide a cheaper solution in many cases. But most students who have financial need don't pay the entire sticker price, and they receive grants and other forms of financial aid.

Statistics from the Social Security Administration show the lifetime benefit of a college education and graduate school. According to the Social Security Administration, "Men with bachelor's degrees earn approximately $900,000 more in median lifetime earnings than high school graduates. Women with bachelor's degrees earn $630,000 more. Men with graduate degrees earn $1.5 million more in median lifetime earnings than high school graduates. Women with graduate degrees earn $1.1 million more." 

Don't sound the death knell for colleges. Many universities will suffer during the next academic year, but they will bounce back. Academically, remote learning can be an effective way of teaching educational content, but it can't replace the extracurricular experience of living on a college campus. Absence from university campuses will make students' hearts grow fonder.

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