How COVID-19 Continues to Affect Higher Education

Episode Summary 

Dr. Adam Hollowell invites us to his Global Inequality Research Initiative classroom, where he presents his chapter of The Pandemic Divide on COVID-19 and Higher Education. The first focus is on broader economic trends in higher education as the background to the pandemic. It is tempting to think of COVID as the most significant recent impact event on higher education. However, the most significant recent impact event is the economic downturn of 2007 to 2009, otherwise known as the Great Recession. The Great Recession transformed the economic landscape of higher education in the U.S., leading to a decrease in state funding for higher education, and an increase in tuition. In 2019, just before the pandemic hit, the US Forbes examined the financial health of 900 private colleges and universities and gave more than 600 of them, a C or D rating for their financial standing. So when the Cares Act passed in March, 2020, and it included 14 billion for higher education, the American Council on Education estimated in 2020 that colleges and universities would need more than 120 billion to cover health related preparations, expected losses in revenue and emergency financial aid in the 2020, 2021 academic year alone.

The conversation focuses on two main points: the impact of COVID-19 on community colleges and the vulnerable populations that they serve, and the research around online learning. There is already research available that suggests that online learning is more difficult for academically disadvantaged students, and that campus closures due to COVID-19 are likely to exacerbate this problem.

COVID has impacted college students in a variety of ways, from challenges with internet access to mental health difficulties. Faculty and staff have also been impacted, with many working full-time while enrolled in college. Social mobility has been impacted as well, with the cost of college rising and debt becoming more prevalent. For-profit colleges have taken advantage of the situation, increasing advertising and enrollment during the pandemic. Ideas for reform include doubling the maximum Pell grant award and making community college free.

The conversation discusses the importance of student support services in helping students complete their degrees. It is noted that when campuses closed, these services became unavailable or only available remotely. It is suggested that in the future, colleges and universities find creative ways to make sure these services are available to both remote and in-person students. Additionally, it is proposed that colleges and universities increase anti-poverty programs for students, such as helping them apply for federal unemployment insurance and snap programs.

Topics Discussed in this Episode:

  • The Importance of Student Support Services in Higher Education
  • The Impact of State Funding on Higher Education Institutions
  • The Impact of State Disinvestment in Higher Education on Student Debt
  • The Impact of Campus Closures on Student Services
  • The Impact of COVID-19 on Inequality in Higher Education
  • The Impact of Standardized Testing on College Admissions

Resources Mentioned in this episode:

Episode transcript:

Full episode transcript can be found here

ADAM HOLLOWELL is a senior research associate at the Samuel DuBois Cook Center on Social Equity and the director of the inequality studies minor at Duke University. He is also the faculty director of the Benjamin N. Duke Scholarship Program. He completed his PhD and MTh in theological ethics at the University of Edinburgh, Scotland.