Students and parents are rethinking higher education in a COVID world

This content is provided by Clark A. Kendall of Kendall Capital in Rockville, MD.

Even before COVID-19 changed the face of higher education — and the world — college and university enrollment had been dropping. Students and the parents that pay the college experience bill have already long been questioning if the high cost of tuition and the major time investment are worth it.

Low enrollment has meant that higher education institutions have been shutting down. “In the last five years, about half a million students have been displaced by college closures, which together shuttered more than 1,200 campuses,” according to The Chronicle of Higher Education. For-profit colleges have withstood the worst of these closures, making up 85% of recent closures.

It’s no surprise, considering how much one year of tuition and fees runs for the average student, according to The Balance:

  • $36,880 at private schools
  • $26,820 for out-of-state residents at public schools
  • $10,440 for in-state residents at public schools

Tack on the cost of rent, food, books, and other supplies, and students (or their families) are left with a hefty bill. A bill that is often paid for via student loans with high interest rates. According to from 2006 through 2021, average federal student loan interest rates were 4.66% for undergraduates, 6.22% for graduate students, and 7.27% for parents and graduate students taking out PLUS loans.  There is a small bright side- students and parents taking out federal student loans during the 2020-21 academic year will pay the lowest interest rates in history and will be 1.79 percentage points lower than last year.

The pandemic

In an already challenging atmosphere, the pandemic has hit colleges and universities especially hard. Admission is declining further because of lack of state funding, loss of foreign students, and more online courses.

Additionally, sports are a major part of the experience for many students, as they foster local pride, school loyalty, social interaction, and excitement. But, of course, many sports teams are not playing for safety reasons, so some students are less interested in attending when they won’t be able to have what they consider a true college experience. And for those colleges offering instruction virtually at the same cost? Students don’t value a virtual college education as much as they do the ‘college experience’.  The very thing that justifies the cost for many of higher education institutions is the very thing that COVID kills- social connection. The classes, the friends, the experience.

For the dollar conscious students

Instead of heading off to college or university a few months after high school graduation, some young people may take a gap year to travel (when allowed), work a job, or live with their families while saving money. This last alternative also gives parents to stow away more savings into any 529’s they may be feeding.

Some students may decide to continue to live with their families while attending a community college, saving money on room and board and taking as many or as few credits as they want. For example, one year of tuition and fees at Montgomery College is $4,650 (assuming 20 credit hours per year), or around $12 per day. Attending community college for the first two years of advanced education and getting those core classes achieved can save students a lot of money, as they are about half the cost of universities, according to the American Association of Community Colleges. That means a student in Montgomery County could still graduate from a four-year university, but lower their overall cost of a degree by nearly $10,000.

Montgomery College and local community college students also have many financial aid options, including federal Pell grants, Maryland state grants, and hundreds of scholarships offered by organizations, businesses, foundations, and individual donors.

Another unique higher education opportunity in Montgomery County is The Universities at Shady Grove. Nine of Maryland’s public universities offer some of their most popular degrees on a central campus in Rockville. By providing access to 80 undergraduate and graduate degrees and certificate programs, USG gives Montgomery County students an affordable way to earn a higher education.

Researching the many affordable higher education opportunities available in your own backyard could be time well spent for college students and their families that can yield big results in overall education savings.

A Chance To Re-Evaluate?

Many facets of life will take on a new, permanent shape in the future and higher education is most likely one of them. Perhaps this will result in college and university leaders finally re-evaluating with better focus on what matters- education.  An education that will have greater emphasis on building people’s skills for work and civic life. Their long-term survival will depend upon their ability to provide what will be most meaningful to students, employers and society. COVID-19 will reshape what it means to go to college. And the urgency of the pandemic should not distract us from seizing an opportunity for reinvention that centers on meeting the needs of today’s students.

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