For better and worse, COVID 19 will be a watershed for online education. Tens of thousands of students and faculty are being force-marched from on-campus to online programs for the remainder of this academic year. This experience will affect their acceptance of online education for years to come.
This could be a boon for online education. Students may discover that online is fun, engaging, and convenient. Or hastily pulled-together online classes could permanently alienate students and harm their college progress, especially if they have limited technology or bandwidth–so it is likely to be harder on poor and rural students.
Some clients we have spoken to already have large online programs and faculty with online experience; they have the infrastructure and expertise to provide a good experience to most students. The transition to 100% online has almost been easy. Their students are more likely to come away from this disruptive period with a favorable perception of online.
This fall, most of their students will likely return to campus or to online programs.
But all is not doom and gloom, even for small colleges.
First, I think students will return to campus this fall (if the coronavirus has run its course). Being cooped up at home can’t be fun and they will miss their friends–and yes, the parties.
Second, higher education normally thrives during downturns. In particular, I think people who have lost jobs and are cooped up at home waiting for a month long quarantine to end, may look for short courses and certificates that can get them back in the workforce or get a raise. Now that all institutions have been forced to get online, even the more traditional players can generate badly needed revenue by launching short online courses focused on high-demand skills like data science. Maybe this crisis will kick-start a generation of Quarantine Quants, Medical Assistants, or eSports champions.