As the spring semester begins to wind down at universities across the country, albeit via remote online-learning, colleges are already bracing for the worst this upcoming fall. While it is the expectation that students should be able to return for in-person classes, it is difficult to make that confirmation given the nature of the coronavirus, as many in the public have speculated that it will be difficult to start-up in-person classes on-time given future waves of the virus. A select number of schools, including Boston University, have already discussed suspending in-person classes through the end of 2020. In the event that online learning is continued, there will be a long list of academic and economical ramifications that come, which could not only indefinitely change the way higher education is operated, but also impact the communities surrounding them.
Duke University, among others, has announced a freeze in hiring and increased salaries given their current financial situation, citing: “All of our formerly reliable sources of revenue—tuition, research grants, clinical revenue, private philanthropy and income from our investments and endowment—will almost certainly be significantly and adversely affected.” Understandably, schools will face difficult financial situations as students contemplate a variety of different substitutes. Would out-of-state students be as inclined to pay out-of-state tuition for online education? Will some students consider taking a semester (or multiple) off until classes regularly resume? Will the financial strains of the coronavirus on families make college unaffordable? A survey from the Art & Science Group, a higher education consulting firm, provided a unique insight into the situation and data from prospective college students.
In addition, international students face an especially difficult obstacle in continuing their higher education. Varying time zones, in particular, has become a burden to many. International students from Europe, Africa, Asia, and Australia have had to adjust their sleep schedule in order to attend their virtual classes during the middle of the night. While it is only a temporary situation, it is evident from students that maintaining this type of schedule is unsustainable.
This goes without mentioning that international students may experience difficulties in renewing their visas for education in the United States, as the country has suspended visa services worldwide indefinitely. In Ireland, researchers for the Irish Universities Association estimated that the international student market “is worth more than €385 million per year,” which is a large sum of revenue that the country's universities would be missing out on if students are deterred from studying internationally.
Not only have universities been affected, but also the communities surrounding them. There has been a huge ripple effect of universities being closed on college towns, as the purchasing power of students has almost entirely vanished. Should students not return to school this upcoming fall, many local businesses will suffer and become crippled financially.
While it is easy to speculate on the negative consequences of the coronavirus on higher education, I remain hopeful and optimistic that I will be able to return to the campus where I have created so many fond memories and connections this upcoming fall.