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College and COVID: Rethinking Higher Education in Light of the Pandemic

college and covid

The coronavirus pandemic has upended many aspects of our world since it first sprang on the scene back in March. One of these that hasn’t gotten a whole lot of attention is higher education.

Even before the pandemic struck, college enrollment had been steadily shrinking as many students and families began to question the value of a college degree and whether the cost was worth it. Granted, some degrees hold more value than others when it comes to return on investment, but the pandemic altered the equation even more for some families.

Declining College Admissions

Declining admissions and low enrollment have forced more than 1,200 campuses to shut down since 2014, displacing about 500,000 students, notes The Chronicle of Higher Education. The pandemic has only accelerated this trend. 

Of course, soaring college costs have contributed heavily to declining enrollment at institutions of higher learning. The average cost of tuition and fees for one year of education at a ranked private school is now $35,087, according to U.S. News and World Report. For out-of-state residents at public schools, this cost is $21,184 and the cost is $9,687 for public school in-state residents. 

These costs are just for tuition and fees. When you add room and board, books and other living expenses, the costs rise even higher. So it’s unsurprising that the financial hardships the pandemic has caused for so many families has them taking a harder look at whether a college degree is really worth the cost or not.

Another factor in the equation is how the pandemic has drastically altered the traditional college experience. This includes Greek life and college sports, which have either been cancelled or are being played without spectators or with a very limited number of spectators at most colleges. Of course, the traditional college experience is virtually non-existent if a college is only offering classes online.

Popular College Alternatives

Given all of this, a growing number of students and families are seriously considering alternatives to a traditional four-year college. One of the most popular alternatives is living at home and attending a local two-year community college. Not only does tuition tend to be much cheaper at these colleges — it averages $4,808 per year for in-state students, according to Community College Review — but families can save thousands of dollars more in room and board expenses when their kids stay home.

The core classes required for many degrees are often the same at a local community college as they are at a four-year university. After obtaining an Associates degree, students can then transfer to a four-year college to finish their education.

Another alternative is attending a trade or technical school. These schools usually offer two-year degrees in trades that can lead to well-paying careers in plumbing, HVAC, landscape design, home inspection, electrical work, construction, auto repair, dental hygiene, radiation therapy and others at a fraction of the cost of a traditional college education.

A Highly Personal Decision

The decision about whether or not to attend college and what type of college or trade school to attend is a highly personal one that’s different for every student and family. You should have a heart-to-heart conversation with your child or children to discuss this openly and make the best choice for your family.

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