We have recently passed a devastating milestone in this country. Over 100,000 people have lost their lives to the COVID-19 pandemic in the U.S, and the situation is one that's only going to get worse before it can begin to get better. As millions across the country are desperate to return to whatever form of normalcy they can, few may be more nervous about what that new normal will hold then college administrators.
For many across this country, much of that sense of normal will come from how these institutions handle the upcoming semesters, and how to best protect their students and staff from the pandemic. For many colleges and universities, these upcoming semesters are almost certainly going to be completely virtual to all but eliminate the possibility of a mass COVID outbreak on a college campus.
If colleges are to proceed in this manner, it's extremely important for these institutions to provide sensible options to assist their students during this challenging time. At a time when millions across this country are simply focusing on surviving this moment in history, colleges will need to understand that for most of their students, their abilities to learn in this new environment are going to be impaired.
For many, online learning is not a suitable alternative to in-class instruction, and continuing to operate as if it were is an unacceptable expectation. Colleges need to provide an option for students to take fewer credit hours during these tumultuous semesters without jeopardizing their financial aid and university scholarships.
Many scholarships have a required minimum credit hours in order for students to remain eligible to receive this aid. Yet, with many across this country taking on additional employment responsibilities in order to help them and their families remain afloat, requiring a certain number of credit hours per semester in order to receive aid to pay to attend your university is an ultimatum. Such circumstances will ultimately just reduce the number of students that continue to attend the institution.
This could come in the form of implementing new scholarships for students to become automatically eligible for upon registering for lighter course loads or simply modifying existing scholarships to fit a sliding scale based on registered credit hours. It could perhaps be an entirely new system altogether. This is ultimately a decision for administrators to make.
College instructors are also going to have to adjust their educational strategies to better suit those who live in rural areas and do not have access to broadband internet. As tempting as it might be to simply adjust your lectures to become Zoom meetings, many students struggle to attend and engage due to unstable connections. There are many solutions to circumvent this problem, such as utilizing discussion boards or group threads in group chat software, as well as recording lectures to allow students to watch lectures when they have the chance.
These changes will almost certainly require additional training and assistance for faculty, but will allow for instructors to provide more accessible learning opportunities for students, something that is absolutely vital for the survival of higher education. This makes these changes undoubtedly necessary.
Even with these changes, it's still important for colleges to recognize that, for many of their students, attending classes in any form in the fall of 2020 is simply no longer an option. Many are unemployed, and without a stable source of income, will almost certainly opt to skip the semester, or potentially the entire 2020-2021 academic year.
With that in mind, it is extremely important for colleges to implement accessible options that can enable students to take a gap semester or two without risking academic or financial penalty. If students take a gap semester for financial reasons, institutions must guarantee that these students will still have their scholarships available for them upon their return to classes in the fall of 2021 at the latest, assuming world conditions allow for a full return to normalcy at that point.
Above all, colleges and universities are going to need to change! They're going to need to implement accessible solutions to allow students to continue their education, especially if a switch to online becomes the only feasible option. Whether that requires adjusting how student scholarships are handled, or by opting to allow students to take a gap semester in the fall, higher education is not going to survive this moment in history without making serious changes to how online education is handled.