Views expressed in opinion columns are the author’s own.
The COVID-19 pandemic will end eventually, but certain aspects of our lives will remain the same. A recent commentary from The Brookings Institution suggests expecting public education to return to normal after the pandemic is a stretch. The most likely outcome is that innovative school districts will use this moment to create new possibilities for remote learning in the future.
For colleges and universities, remote learning post-pandemic can increase financial accessibility and provide students with more customizable, well-rounded educational experiences.
One benefit of remote learning is that it enables students to take classes from anywhere in the world in a way that best fits their schedules. Distance learning can increase study abroad opportunities by removing institutional barriers such as credits and allowing students to continue their education from wherever they choose. For example, World Wide Opportunities on Organic Farms, a program that allows students to take their courses while simultaneously learning how to work on a farm, has seen a 20 percent increase in membership since the start of the pandemic. Remote learning would mean students are no longer constrained by the study abroad programs offered at their school; instead, they can create the perfect experience tailored to their needs.
Furthermore, it allows students to choose from online courses and career development opportunities without being constrained by in-person classes. Some students benefit from a more hands-on learning experience, which can include internships, jobs and self-studying. While some universities offer cooperative education programs that allow students to take a semester off to work in a field of their interest, such as Northeastern University, most universities do not.
Virtual classes, especially when asynchronous, make it easier for students to structure their schedules so they can benefit from a blend of online classes as well as relevant job and internship opportunities. Combining courses with career-related experiences can enhance a student’s college experience by helping them figure out what fields they may be interested in entering after graduation and supplementing their classroom experience.
Another benefit of remote learning is affordability. Tuition rates have soared around 260 percent in the past 40 years in the United States. If universities offered more remote learning opportunities, they would increase access to education by being able to accept more students at a lower cost, as tuition tends to be slightly cheaper because of the reduced overhead costs of operating remotely. Remote learning can also be a cheaper alternative for many students because they don’t need to pay for room and board.
Asynchronous remote learning allows students to work more hours, which can also help in paying off tuition and loans. The added flexibility gives students more time to choose their working hours and pick up more shifts. This can be a huge advantage for students who were previously forced to schedule their paying jobs around their in-person classes.
Online classes have opened and will continue to open doors for students who benefit from having more flexible schedules and being able to customize their educational experience to fit their needs and interests. While there have been a lot of challenges in adapting to our new virtual reality, the future of higher education is online. Universities must rise to the occasion.
Laura Phillips-Alvarez is a junior anthropology and government and politics major. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.