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College tuition trends, health concerns, and consequences post-pandemic

It is an unprecedented time in the education sector, and higher education institutions must bridge the gap between providing education for everyone and charging enough to be sustainable moving forward.

College tuition trends, health concerns, and consequences post-pandemic

With the advancement of medical technology in the 21st century, people hoped that COVID-19 would only last for a year since it was declared official by the World Health Organization on March 11, 2020. But while businesses are slowly rebounding from the financial crash that had world markets plummeting a day after the declaration, the health sector, in its fight against the coronavirus, is still finding its momentum—even with the current vaccination rollouts.

“The challenge is to make these vaccines available to people around the world. It will be key that people in all countries — not just in rich countries — receive the required protection,” stated scientific online publication Our World in Data on its international COVID-19 vaccination dataset page.

WHO Director-General Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus reiterated this point for his New Year’s 2021 message — a year since the pandemic started. 

“Vaccines offer great hope to turn the tide of the pandemic. But to protect the world, we must ensure that all people at risk everywhere — not just in countries who can afford vaccines — are immunized.”

Dr. Ghebreyesus continued, stating that the task of fully vaccinating people from all around the world is not an easy feat and will “take time,” and encourages people to “keep adhering” to health and safety protocols like avoiding mass gatherings, practicing physical social distancing, wearing of face masks, and the frequent washing of hands with soap and water.

Necessary disruption

Whether Higher Education Institutions (HEIs) accept it or not, the COVID-19 pandemic may have allowed most of them to adapt quickly to what is needed to survive in the business of education, rather than go on with their old ways and fade away into obsolescence.

Following the release of his book “The Innovative University“ in 2011, American scholar and business consultant Clayton Christensen have gone on record predicting that half of HEIs in the United States would be bankrupt in the next decade or two because of the emergence of online learning. Christensen is most known for his disruptive innovation theory.

 Disruptive innovation according to American scholar and business consultant Clayton Christensen. (Source: Harvard Business School Online)

What Is Disruptive Innovation?

“Disruptive innovation is the process in which a smaller company, usually with fewer resources, is able to challenge an established business (often called an ‘incumbent’) by entering at the bottom of the market and continuing to move up-market.”

Because of COVID-19, HEIs around the world have been forced to adopt online learning, forge strategic partnerships, and prepare their students for work in a technology-driven economy. Because of these applications in the last year, colleges and universities stand a chance of thriving in a post-pandemic environment. However, as this article will tackle later on, the incorporation of technology into education delivery alone may not be enough to weather the financial storm.

A Year Later: International Students

COVID-19 has drastically changed the course of education that students in universities and colleges worldwide are facing mental health struggles as a result.

In a study by the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill published March 5, 2021, it reported that the prevalence of moderate to severe anxiety in first-year college students increased to 25.3 percent, compared to 18.1 percent before the pandemic. The same study showed the prevalence of moderate to severe depression among students increased to 31.7 percent from 21.5 percent. 

“Their findings showed students’ mental health struggles were associated with distanced learning and social isolation more so than other stressors such as work reduction or worries about coronavirus infecting them or their family or friends,” stated an article from the university website.

Apart from these, international students are also confronted with a range of challenges. According to an article on Times Higher Education, they worry about visa and graduation status; optional practical training opportunities not pushing through; border closures forcing them to return to their home countries; not having a strong support system with their loved ones being so far from them; and where to live if dormitories are closed down. International students also worry about finances as their families’ livelihood may have been greatly affected by the pandemic and may not be able to send them money and many of these students have lost their jobs as well.

Meanwhile, as HEIs are figuring out a new way of doing things, students are yearning for a return to normal.

A Quacquarelli Symonds final survey in November 2020 showed that 21 percent of students would be confident of studying on campus again when a coronavirus vaccine would be available. “Our latest insight shows that a potential COVID-19 vaccine would prompt many international students to bring forward their plans for studying abroad,” said QS managing director Jessica Turner.

Rising costs

While it may be healthy for HEIs to look at the current situation with optimism, the fact of the matter remains: The coronavirus pandemic of 2020 left in its wake a huge financial burden for both schools and students.

In a study by The World Bank published in May 2020, it highlighted the ways COVID-19 is likely to affect the availability of public and private funding for education. 

“Even though a return to economic growth in 2021 is forecast, education spending is expected to stagnate in most countries and fall in some,” it stated. The study also explored how the pandemic will result “in a massive income and health shock for many households,” and enumerated how breadwinners will lose their jobs, remittances will significantly drop, and that the need to spend for health will be greater than the desire to spend for education. In addition, it also stated how significant pressure will be put on a government’s public education budget when students are forced to move from private to public institutions.

The pandemic also came at the peak of tuition rates increasing significantly in the last four decades. According to data presented in a study entitled “Trends in College Pricing 2019” by CollegeBoard, the average tuition at a public four-year institution in the United States, adjusted for inflation, currently cost only $2,710. For the 2019-2020 academic year, the average cost is at $7,730—an increase of 285 percent.

Make or Break

With the COVID-19 pandemic, solutions that help students manage tuition costs like scholarship programs, student discounts and coupons, and savings plans may no longer be enough for students during this crisis. HEIs are also bracing for the worst.

“For the top schools with incredibly large endowments, this pandemic will have a significant financial impact, but they have the deep pockets to weather the storm. It’s the smaller colleges that have been in financial trouble for a while that won’t be able to withstand this financial blow,” said Dr. Kat Cohen, founder and chief executive officer of international educational consulting company IvyWise.

It’s now make or break season for HEIs. As institutions resort to online learning, students will be questioning the difference in quality between online classes compared to classes on campus, most especially if the tuition rates are the same. On the contrary, if there is a significant difference in cost but the quality of education remains more or less the same, students might opt for online learning instead. 

It is an unprecedented time in the education sector, and HEIs must bridge the gap between providing education for everyone and charging enough to be sustainable moving forward.

In response to the pandemic, some institutions have resorted to freezing their tuition this year, while others have gone a step further — some colleges lowering tuition up to 20 percent. TopUniversities is keeping an updated page of universities around the world that have reported changing their tuition. Some students are considering a gap year, although past studies have revealed its negative impact on the time students spend in higher education. Some education management platforms, like MSM Higher Ed, have established and offer pathway programs for international students to significantly save on study costs.

Conclusion

Putting all the financials aside, the education sector must be sustained even in the face of a pandemic and beyond. Academic institutions, educators, staff and personnel needed to run them and the students and their families supporting them must not cease. 

If education is brought to a standstill, the effects are disastrous, as UNESCO outlined in a statement on the “adverse consequences of school closures” as part of its COVID-19 Education Response. These include interrupted learning; poor nutrition; confusion and stress for teachers; parents unprepared for distance and home schooling; challenges creating, maintaining, and improving distance learning; gaps in childcare; high economic costs; unintended strain on health-care systems; rise in dropout rates; increased exposure to violence and exploitation; social isolation; and challenges measuring and validating learning.

The said UNESCO statement also notes: “school closures carry high social and economic costs for people across communities. Their impact however is particularly severe for the most vulnerable and marginalized boys and girls and their families. The resulting disruptions exacerbate already existing disparities within the education system but also in other aspects of their lives.”

For the sake of the global community and its future, HEIs need to find a solution to make education as affordable as possible with the help of technology and strategic partnerships, and international students must also responsibly strive to find ways and means to pursue education at a price they are willing to pay for. Learning must not stop.

Data sources:

Stevens, P. et. al. (2020, March 12) Stock market live Thursday: Dow tanks 2,300 in worst day since Black Monday, S&P 500 bear market. CNBC. Retrieved from https://www.cnbc.com/2020/03/12/stock-market-today-live.html.

Ritchie, H. (2021) Coronavirus (COVID-19) Vaccinations. Our World in Data. Retrieved from https://ourworldindata.org/covid-vaccinations.

Ghebreyesus, T. (2020, December 30) COVID-19: One year later – WHO Director-General’s new year message. World Health Organization. Retrieved from https://www.who.int/news/item/30-12-2020-covid-19-anniversary-and-looking-forward-to-2021.

Lederman, D. (2017, April 28) Clay Christensen, Doubling Down. Inside Higher Ed. Retrieved from https://www.insidehighered.com/digital-learning/article/2017/04/28/clay-christensen-sticks-predictions-massive-college-closures.

Larson, C. (2016, November 15) Disruptive Innovation Theory: What It Is & 4 Key Concepts. Harvard Business School Online. Retrieved from https://online.hbs.edu/blog/post/4-keys-to-understanding-clayton-christensens-theory-of-disruptive-innovation.

Edes, B. et. al. (2020, June 23) After COVID-19: The coming upheaval in higher education. Asian Development Blog. Retrieved from https://blogs.adb.org/blog/after-covid-19-coming-upheaval-in-higher-education.

Fruewirth, J. et. al. (2021, March 5) The Covid-19 pandemic and mental health of first-year college students: Examining the effect of Covid-19 stressors using longitudinal data. PLoS ONE. Retrieved from https://journals.plos.org/plosone/article?id=10.1371/journal.pone.0247999/

Depression and anxiety among first-year college students worsen during pandemic (2021, March 3) University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. Retrieved from https://uncnews.unc.edu/2021/03/03/depression-and-anxiety-among-first-year-college-students-worsen-during-pandemic/.

Higher Education in 2020: How COVID-19 Shaped this Year. (2020, December) Quacquarelli Symonds. Retrieved from https://www.qs.com/portfolio-items/higher-education-in-2020-how-covid-19-shaped-this-year/?utm_source=website&utm_medium=blog&utm_campaign=recap.

Master, L. (2021, March 7) International Students Considering Studying Abroad Again Thanks To Covid-19 Vaccine. Top MBA. Retrieved from https://www.topmba.com/mba-programs/international-students-considering-studying-abroad-again-thanks-covid-19-vaccine.

The Impact of the COVID-19 Pandemic on Education Financing

(2020, May) The World Bank. Retrieved from http://pubdocs.worldbank.org/en/734541589314089887/Covid-and-Ed-Finance-final.pdf.

Trends in College Pricing 2019 (2019, November) College Board. Retrieved from https://research.collegeboard.org/pdf/trends-college-pricing-2019-full-report.pdf.

The Absurd Rise in College Costs: Comparing Tuition and Fees From The Last 50 Years. Broke Scholar. Retrieved from https://brokescholar.com/absurd-rise-in-college-costs-comparing-tuition-and-fees

DePietro, A. (2020, June 2) Impact Of Coronavirus (COVID-19) On College Tuition And Finances. Forbes. Retrieved from https://www.forbes.com/sites/andrewdepietro/2020/06/02/impact-covid-19-tuition-finance/?sh=ebfba7a4b883.

Burt, C. (2020, October 2020) N.J. university cuts tuition 20% or more to new students. University Business. Retrieved from https://universitybusiness.com/n-j-university-lowers-tuition-by-more-than-20-for-new-students/.

Gilmore, J. (2021, March 21) Universities Changing Tuition Fees In Response To Coronavirus. Top Universities. Retrieved from https://www.topuniversities.com/student-info/student-finance/universities-changing-tuition-fees-response-coronavirus.

Burke, L. (2020, May 29) Privilege of the Rich. Inside Higher Ed. Retrieved from https://www.insidehighered.com/news/2020/05/29/gap-years-and-delayed-enrollment-may-be-concern-during-pandemic.

MSM Higher Ed Pathways. MSM Higher Ed. Retrieved from https://msmhighered.com/pathways/.

Adverse consequences of school closures. Unesco. Retrieved from https://en.unesco.org/covid19/educationresponse/consequences/.

Beckstein, A. (2020, July 24). The Student-Times Higher Education. How are international students coping with the Covid-19 pandemic? Retrieved from https://www.timeshighereducation.com/student/blogs/how-are-international-students-coping-covid-19-pandemic

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