Opinion: College During the Pandemic

By contributing writer Jake Fusco

The final March 2020 print issue of Beacon in a disused news box on campus. Photo by Liliana Palmer for the Beacon

College during the pandemic is not about questioning the pandemic’s existence. It is about finding the best solution for everyone. It is not about prioritizing the students, teachers, and parents, but rather everyone as an entire body working together. The student body is not, and really should not be the priority when lives are at stake. With all this said, that doesn’t mean that education should be put completely to the side. With the massive impact that COVID-19 has had on our mental health, our daily routines, literally everything we do we now have another layer of consideration. 

COVID did not stop at affecting the workplace and our schools. Enrollment and retention of students have dropped significantly within the last few years. CollegeBoard released a massive paper detailing over thirty-five figures and fifty-seven pages full of information studying the retention, and enrollment rates within specific sectors. Whether it is high schoolers going into college, or more seasoned students, they have the stats. They have analyzed over ten million students from across the country over twenty-two thousand high schools and twenty-eight-hundred colleges. Enrollment for new students across the nation has certainly hit, but especially in two-year colleges: “Two-year institutions, which saw a decline of nearly 12 percent due to the pandemic…” (Chun) as well as in four-year institutions: “4.5 percent and 2.8 percent declines were found from private and public four-year institutions,” (Chun). According to CollegeBoard, our smaller term colleges have seen more of an impact and less enrollment than standard four-year colleges, but both saw hits.

While enrollment has been significantly hit, retention of students has actually not been as affected: “Retention rates at community colleges declined by nearly 5 percent due to the pandemic, while a 1.4 percent increase was found among public four-year colleges and private nonprofit four-year institutions saw a decrease of only 1.2 percent” (Chun). It’s interesting to note that while enrollment is significantly more of an impact, the retention really hasn’t shifted, and without knowing about a pandemic you could assume it was a normal change. This is interesting because I would assume most people went home, but perhaps students were more comfortable living on campus and holding strong. Perhaps the access to living on campus or on-site from the 4-year institutions and private schools lessened the effect of the pandemic and kept students holding strong.

SMCC’s Student Center under rainclouds. Photo by Liliana Palmer for the Beacon.

As a closing point for this source, the students in the midwest and Pacific Northwest seemed to have struggled the most. Haelim Chun sites CollegeBoard saying: “ Enrollment of freshmen at four-year colleges declined by 20.6 percent in Idaho, 16.9 percent in Oregon, 16.6 percent in Minnesota, 15.1 percent in Montana, 13 percent in Washington State, and nearly 13 percent in both Illinois and Wisconsin,” (Chun). Clearly, this is significant when over twenty percent of new students do not show.

My main gripe with the solutions we have at the moment is that a lot of schooling really does not feel fulfilling. Does it feel worth it to be handed a piece of paper when you haven’t attended an in-person class in years? I’m not one for the “college experience” but I also do not prefer feeling like I am completely self-taught. It definitely shines a light on the weaknesses of students who don’t prefer online learning, but man I miss in-person learning. All in all, students are less likely to enroll in schooling and personally, I’m not enjoying it as much as I was in person, and it feels simpler. Even if we could be improving in some areas, I think we’ve become conditioned to a different learning style. It just doesn’t feel the same, but we are adapting.

Source used for stats:

Chun, H. (2021, September 12). College enrollment and retention in the era of Covid. Higher Education Today. Retrieved from https://www.higheredtoday.org/2021/06/16/college-enrollment-retention-era-covid/

Categories: OpEd

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