As College Went Virtual, Students Went Packing

A few years ago, Harvard and Stanford took the extraordinary step of putting classroom-recorded courses on their websites for free. The move was downright gutsy. After all, access to the schools’ professors and insights were considered elite; their $50K+ tuitions, worthwhile. 

Many in academia took pride in the assumption that nothing could beat the classroom experience. And because of that, demand for pricey enrollment would not be threatened.

Little did they know, in the year 2020, the entire academic world would be forced online. Yet, this time, the schools scrambling to equip their professors with webcams would ask for tens of thousands of dollars for the honor of “attending” an elite university from the comfort of their secluded dorm room, basement, or parents’ kitchen table.

The impact was much like you’d expect.

According to Inside Higher Ed, last year’s college applications saw a significant decline. The Common Application reported a drop of 8%, while the number of lower-income applicants dropped twice as quickly – a 16% decline compared to the previous year.

Calling College into Question

The exact benefits of college have long been debated. Is a 4-year degree worth it? How about if it comes with large amounts of debt? Which degree programs retain the most value? Could attending a community college, either for the first two years or the full four, save precious dollars without damaging one’s hiring prospects? 

For many, “the classroom experience,” “student collaboration,” and other traditional university experiences tipped the decision in favor of doing what had always been done. Now, like every other category of human life in 2020, those assumptions have been disrupted.

A License to Ask 

If you’ve found yourself more interested in the “hard skills” offered by a trade school, or satisfied with the education that an online college can deliver, the global pandemic just handed you another reason to have confidence in asking the question at all. 

And it’s one we’re asking right alongside you. We devoted a full episode to asking the question, “is college worth it?” Even before COVID turned all schools into online schools, the answer was complicated. 

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