The COVID-19 pandemic has ushered in a sea of change and transformation. Nowhere was this more keenly felt than in higher education. Against a backdrop of stay-at-home orders, social distancing, dire economic conditions, and even civic unrest, ensuring access to higher education has become a critical issue.
As we look back at 2020, we consider how this defining time in our lives will change higher education – and those who have access to it – forever.
Barriers to education take center stage
Even as many institutions pivoted to delivering online classes, going to college has become a huge risk calculation for students. Uncertain of their future and facing a loss of income, this predicament is likely to persist through 2021 and play havoc with institutions’ enrollment projections and cash flow. Last year, community colleges experienced a 19 percent dip in freshman enrollment and a 30 percent fall in the recruitment of underrepresented minorities.
Exacerbating these challenges are changing perceptions about higher education. For too long continuous education – particularly four-year degrees – has been perceived as elitist. Quality education has been “locked in an ivory tower” where getting a four-year degree from an expensive school is often valued over more affordable alternatives like regional universities or community colleges.
New learning models are enhancing access to higher education
As we embark further into 2021, it’s in everyone’s best interests to lower these barriers to education – both in cost and access. Our flailing economy needs talent to drive its recovery (it’s predicted that 149 million new technology jobs will be created by 2025). The big tech giants recognize this and are taking rapid action to fill the digital skills needed in a global economy. Microsoft and Google have debuted low-cost certification programs that will allow people to learn a digital trade without getting a classic degree – fast tracking their pathway to opportunity.
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