COVID-19's Disruption of Higher Education

Is higher education due for a disruption?

It was earlier this year when I was much more optimistic and created this website initially, and I thought to myself "creating a blog, should not be too hard," boy- was I wrong. Just as it was with everyone else... when COVID-19 seemingly shut the world down, it threw my ability to focus on any sort of creative work into a downward spiral.

Seemingly, I found myself unemployed and rather confused on what I intended to do during this time. It was at this point I decided to focus on the one thing that always vastly improves ones life experience: learning on my own.

Learning on your own has grown infinitely easier now with the increase in educational resource now available online. And craziest part about it all, is that this education is quite enjoyable!

Nevertheless, I have often questioned the validity of my investment in a Bachelor's of Psychology degree.. as well as higher education as a whole. I was the type of student in my undergraduate days, who found himself having a hard time staying awake while a graduate student taught my class with recycled powerpoint slides. Needless to say, the more I skipped class to do learning on my own about the topic(s) in which we were going over in class, the higher my grades were.

Yet, there I was the beginning of quarantine falling for the luring of various college applications, to "better" myself with a masters degree to then work up to a Ph.D.

It is quite clear, that the higher education system is broken. Given, the rising amount of tuition costs per year, as well as the unprecedented amount of student debt the United States has it's students in. According to a recent Forbes article with updated student loan statistics, as a nation we are up to an alarming 1.56 TRILLION dollars in student loan debt collectively.

Let's break down this 1.56 Trillion dollars of student debt.

  • A total of 44.7 million U.S. borrowers have taken on this debt.

  • This averages out to typical student loan debt being about $32,731 per person.

How are we letting this happen to the future minds of our country?

Upon attempting to rationalize the unbearable cost of a master's program, $60,000 + for a 20-month online program.. I decided I am no longer falling for this trap.

When it comes to a graduate program/additional schooling of any sort, what is it that we desire from this? My hypothesis is that it is quite simple: we look for a community of individuals who have similar interests working towards something that intrigues us, as well as ideally working with a mentor of some sort. To extend on this point, I believe a vast amount of education comes down to finding your "niche" interest to deeply personalize your education to truly get the most out of your investment in time/money.

With that being said: since the COVID-19 outbreak initialized a whole plethora of protective measures for companies, schools, governments, establishments of all sorts.. higher education was forced to transition. To fully immerse themselves into conducting their coursework entirely online. This transition has left many parents incredibly disappointed by their college students education by virtue of classes taking place live via Zoom.

Each year as an undergraduate I had noticed the subtle shift towards more work being conducted online. I found myself partaking in online courses which were truly laughable with the quality via the online formatting, especially for the expensive clip at which they went for.

It as if the internet is rippling the traditional classroom altogether....

I am now going to focus on 3 reasons why this is the case.

  1. Decentralized Knowledge. Historically, knowledge has been centralized within very large organizations, charging a premium for access to this knowledge. As one would only have access to a certain dataset/research if they were a member of this particular organization. The internet has drastically reshaped this, as essentially we have access to whatever interest our mind desires with a simple search query plugged into Google. There also seems to be a transition from professors keeping their research within the community of researchers by virtue of secluded academic journals, to more open-sourced options such as ResearchGate and for example.

  2. Online Communities. One of the main wonders of the web is finding communities of like-minded individuals. With the growth of social networks in which one can find their niche groups, we have also seen growth in platforms such as Discord and Slack. I came to find Slack and Discord all be it, probably quite later than most in the midst of Quarantine and was amazed by the sheer potential it has of enriching the online experience even more.

  3. You could buy a piano instead! As I had mentioned previously, one of the main faults with higher-education is the ever-increasing amount that one has to spend on tuition. It is mind-boggling that we as a society, allow so many young individuals take on $32,000 + dollars in debt right out of the gate into adulthood. How do we ever expect the young individuals in our world to take a chance on a risky business idea, rather than taking the corporate job for security? How do we expect individuals to find what they are truly passionate about, if the time in which one could discover themselves, they are getting swallowed whole by student loan payments?

So what is my suggestion? My suggestion is simple. Don't join that masters program. Question the reason(s) in which you intend to make the financial investment of college. Don't give into the Ponzi scheme in which the university system finds itself in.

Invest your time wisely on the internet. Listen to podcasts, watch lectures, read books, join MOOCs (massively open online courses), start a blog to reflect on what you've learned, join an online community and start a study group. Last but not least, tell others.

I promise there are useful resources out there, as well as individuals who are working towards an education although- not the traditional ways.

The gilded age of the higher education system charging incredibly high rates of tuition is over, and COVID-19 has accelerated this trend. Together we can create fundamental change when it comes to the financial structure of higher education. The more we withdraw from paying the outrageous prices in tuition the more likely, these universities are going to have to address this.

I will leave you all with an incredible list courtesy of Class Central's 2019 Top 100 MOOCs of All Time. Bear in mind, these courses are all entirely free.. as well as being offered by top-notch universities that you may even be considering for rather-expensive schooling.

To learn further here's two articles about this trend in education... interestingly enough, written by professors at NYU and Carnegie Mellon.

Deeply examine your reasons for desiring an education and what it is you are hoping to learn/accomplish upon your graduation!

Cheers friends,

Adam Bartley