What is college going to look like in the future?
By Jodi Redmond, Ed.M. • May 11, 2020
College in the future will be unrecognizable. Bold statement, I know, but here’s why.
First, fewer students are attending college already. In 2019, there were nearly 250,000 fewer students enrolled than in 2018. That’s a lot of students being lost, and 2019 was not the first time this has happened. Over the past eight years, college enrollment nationwide has fallen by about 11 percent. Every sector—public state schools, community colleges, for-profits and private liberal arts schools—has felt the decline, though it has been especially painful for small, private colleges (some of which have been forced to close). As we grapple with this pandemic, we face uncertainty regarding whether students will be allowed back on campuses this fall. If universities remain online and maintain their high tuition rates, enrollment is likely to fall even further.
Second, teachers and students have now learned how to teach and learn online. This was no small feat—certainly a learning curve for all involved. But now that virtual teaching has become the norm, and institutions have been forced to explore this modality, we can expect it to continue in some form. If schools continue to offer virtual learning as an option, more and more students will opt for the flexible hours (and lower tuition) this entails. But not everyone will; humans are a social species, and teenagers are among our most social breeds.
College is an interactive, collective experience that extends beyond academics. The incoming Harvard class sent an open letter to the president of the university, urging the school to postpone its Fall semester if the coronavirus pandemic continues to preclude in-person classes. They argue that an online semester would create disadvantages for first-generation and low-income students, have adverse impacts on mental health, and make adjusting to college coursework difficult.
“As first-year students, we have yet to establish meaningful in-person relationships with class- mates, faculty, advisors, and other mentors who will facilitate the transition to Harvard,” the letter reads. We have to listen to them.
Another potential shift has to do with the way students are evaluated. Many universities have gone to a pass/fail or credit/no credit format for the current semester. Some schools, like Columbia, have instituted it across the board, while others, like Penn, have given students the choice to opt-in to P/F grading on a course-by-course basis. Some people push back against P/F grading, claiming it is antithetical to the concept of higher education. It’s not. They don’t realize that some of the nation’s top graduate schools already bypass traditional grades; Harvard, Yale, and Stanford Law schools, for example, exclusively offer pass/no pass grades.
There are real benefits to assessing students in this way, and universities should capitalize on the opportunity to make this move permanent. For one, it allows graders to prioritize student growth and learning rather than perfection. Students have more opportunities to try new approaches and experiment; they can risk exploring a new discipline without worrying that it will cost them their GPA or their chances at pursuing jobs down the line. Grades are not always indicative of ability and effort; they often reflect the conditions in which students live. And this can mean real inequality. Some students don’t have the luxury of focusing only on school; they care for family members, or work part – or full-time jobs in addition to shouldering academic responsibilities. They have other major pressures that affect their ability to get an A- instead of a B+.
As bad as this pandemic has been—and it’s been really bad, on so many levels— there is a silver lining here in terms of how we’ve been able to test new approaches to education. My true hope is that educators will capitalize on what they’ve learned to make shifts that improve higher education for everyone. Absolutely.
Jodi Redmond is the Founder and Education Director of Aureus Prep, an educational, college consulting and tutoring firm. A graduate of The Harvard Graduate School of Education, where she studied under Howard Gardner, Shari Tischman and Steven Seidell, Redmond has been on the educational frontlines for the last 13 years and has helped hundreds of students, including from low-income households, obtain admission to top universities. Previous to this, she worked in Title I schools in NYC and L.A. She is a single, working mother, is PTA President of a Title I elementary school, and is working to bring mental health education to all middle schools, nationally.
Original article here.