As the coronavirus pandemic continues to present unprecedented challenges to America’s institutions of higher education, we felt that it was our obligation here at GreatValueColleges.net to keep our finger on the pulse of the impact on prospective and current college and university students. In keeping with this responsibility, our senior editors recently developed a survey and made it available to our readers and online visitors. After nearly 200 responses to this online survey, we’ve decided to publish the results as well as insights taken from our subsequential analysis.

A relatively small subset of respondents (18%) did not fall into any of these three categories and instead self-reported as working professionals, stay-at-home parents, and senior citizens.

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Challenges Experienced by College Students Amid the Covid-19 Pandemic

Unfortunately, no one has been untouched by the wide-ranging effects of the public health crisis, whether financial, emotional, or career-related. One of the key questions posed by our editors in this survey, however, was one that probed the unique challenges faced by college students amid the pandemic. We wanted to know exactly how postsecondary students (both current and prospective ) were coping with the pandemic and precisely which obstacles they were facing. Thus, one of the central questions asked of survey respondents was: “What are your biggest challenges during the Covid-19 crisis?”

Not surprisingly, just over half of respondents (50.57%) cited health and safety as the key concern. They were faced with decisions regarding how to move forward with their higher education plans despite a global public health crisis. Students enrolled in college in the Spring of 2020 were forced to transition to online learning for a time. As some campuses around the country began to reopen, many of these students had to choose whether to return to school on-campus, take classes online or via a hybrid format, or postpone their academic plans until the pandemic waned. To make matters worse, little was known about the virus at the time, so these decisions were extremely challenging. Some students found themselves concerned about their own exposure to the virus and the potential of spreading it to friends and family members, especially older adults and those with underlying health conditions.  

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Following closely behind health and safety as a primary challenge during the coronavirus pandemic were concerns over financial security (36.93%) and separation from family and friends (34.09%). Finally, nearly 20% of respondents cited their living situation as an overwhelming source of anxiety as they attempted to navigate the pandemic.

Nearly 10% of respondents cited other concerns such as the government’s response to the pandemic as well as academic opportunities, including scholarship availability.

Views on the Traditional College Experience Versus Online Learning

Our editors inquired as to how important the traditional college experience was to each respondent.

Before delving too deeply into the survey itself, we wanted to gauge our respondents’ general feelings about higher education, particularly regarding on-campus versus online learning. Respondents were directed to enter a number on a scale of 0-100 to represent the priority they gave to traditional learning methods over remote instruction. Responses varied widely, but the average of all responses equaled 60, which our editors interpreted as a slight preference toward traditional learning overall.

Interestingly, this numerical figure is just below the percentage of U.S. college students enrolled in exclusively on-campus courses. The National Center for Education Statistics (NCES) reports that nearly 65% of postsecondary students studied traditionally in 2018 compared to just over 35% who took at least one remote course.

Of course, the pandemic has turned these numbers on their heads, at least temporarily. When the pandemic hit in early 2020, colleges and universities across the country were forced to transition to online learning, and many classes have remained online to some degree. Proponents of online learning argue that this isn’t a bad thing, necessarily. In some ways, the pandemic has given students devoted to the traditional college experience the chance to enjoy the many benefits of distance learning, such as enhanced flexibility and 24/7 access to course content and materials, for instance. On the other hand, critics worry that the switch to virtual learning will force students to sacrifice valuable aspects of traditional college like face-to-face instruction and social interactions with peers.

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Covid-19’s Impact on College Plans

Higher education is a sector of our society that has been especially impacted by the coronavirus pandemic, causing colleges and universities nationwide to close their campuses and end in-person learning, at least temporarily. Since the onset of Covid-19, a few schools have had to close their doors permanently while others have resumed some semblance of normalcy in terms of a class schedule. To discover exactly how GVC readers were impacted regarding their academic plans, our editors posed the question: “How has the pandemic affected your plans for attending college or university?”

The findings revealed that current and prospective college students’ plans had been impacted in myriad ways. While the biggest impact (36.36%) was felt by students who decided to attend classes completely online, a significant number of respondents (22.16%) reported going ahead with in-person instruction despite the public health crisis. A similar number reported electing a hybrid schedule (21.02%). Perhaps most concerning to our editors was the large number of students surveyed (i.e., over 20%) who decided to put their college plans on hold until they felt it safe to attend class in person.

While taking a gap year can be beneficial for some students, doing so amid a pandemic with no definitive end in sight could present additional challenges down the road. Students who choose to take this route are best served by taking some online classes (for-credit or otherwise) or engaging in an independent study option. At the same time, they await a vaccine or other such go-ahead to resume their original college plans.

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Level of Satisfaction Regarding University Responses to the Pandemic

College and university administrators have faced difficult decisions amid the Covid-19 crisis. These school officials have been forced to weigh student safety against their own institutional goals while considering their students’ academic aspirations. It has not been an easy road, and there has been no shortage of critics on all sides. Still, America’s institutions of higher learning have not taken the pandemic’s blows lying down. Instead, they’ve taken what some may say are extraordinary measures to remain afloat and relevant during the pandemic while creating a safe haven for their students. Some of these measures include ramping up cleaning regimens, reconfiguring classrooms and meeting spaces to accommodate social distancing, and mandating self-monitoring and Covid testing for on-campus students.

For our editors, however, the primary point of interest was not what steps were being taken but rather how the students themselves felt about their own institutions’ response to the pandemic, particularly where student safety was concerned. Encouragingly, the vast majority (88.6%) of survey respondents reported being satisfied with their college/university’s attempts to keep students safe amid the pandemic.

The relatively small percentage of students who expressed dissatisfaction with their school’s Covid-19 response cited concerns over the health risks of in-person learning, inadequate cleaning and sanitation policies, and lack of transparency regarding positive Covid test results.

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Covid-19 and Finances Among College and University Students

The financial impact of Covid-19 has been top of mind since the beginning of the pandemic, so our editors were eager to discover precisely how prospective and current college students were being affected on an economic level. To our pleasant surprise, over 36% of survey respondents reported no financial impact due to the coronavirus. Others were not so lucky, however. Roughly 26% of those surveyed reported some negative financial impact despite remaining employed during the global public health crisis. Furthermore, just under 12% cited a significant effect resulting in a new job search. Among the most impacted group of respondents (i.e., 15.9%) reported that the pandemic had disrupted their ability to attend school and maintain employment. Nearly 10% of those surveyed reported other financial impacts such as loss of housing and changes to other household members’ employment status, including parents and spouses.

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Covid-19 and Its Effects on Post-Secondary Students’ Mental Health

Of particular concern to our editors was the large number of survey respondents who reported a significant impact on their mental health due to the pandemic. Nearly 40% of those surveyed said Covid-19 had negatively affected their wellbeing, using adjectives like detached , anxious , isolated , and disturbed to describe this effect. In a recently published article , GVCs editors have delved deeper into the effects of the pandemic on student’s mental health.

Interestingly, although significant, this percentage is much lower than that identified in a comparable study conducted at Texas A&M University earlier this year. This could be a simple matter of timing. Texas A&M’s survey was distributed in May of 2020, only about a month after the state of Texas issued its stay-at-home order. GreatValueColleges.net developed its survey approximately five months later. It is possible that students had time to adjust to the “new normal” within this span of time and therefore reported a lesser degree of negative mental health effects.

It is also important to note that Texas A&M’s study involved participants who were all enrolled in college classes at the time of the study, while GVC’s involved both current and prospective students.

In our survey, only one respondent reported feeling better in terms of mental health amid the pandemic, reasoning that the isolation has resulted in more time for self-reflection and a heightened focus on personal physical and mental wellness.

According to Yale Medicine, experiencing mental health challenges during a pandemic (or similar crisis) is a natural response.  Experts say it’s important to keep tabs on how you’re feeling from day to day and take note if symptoms like anxiety, fatigue, or sleep disturbances worsen. These could be signs of a more serious condition like post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).

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Going Forward Despite the Pandemic

GreatValueColleges.net remains committed to ongoing coverage of the coronavirus pandemic, especially where it pertains to higher education and the impact of the global public health crisis on university students and college hopefuls. We desire to continue providing the most current and relevant information available to help our readers make pressing decisions regarding their academic opportunities during these challenging times, whether it be in the form of informative articles regarding trends in higher education or rankings of the most affordable and flexible degree plans available today. Check back here for the latest updates and information about Covid-19 and what it means for colleges and universities.

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