What does the future of college look like?


Large amphitheatres with 500 students. Buffet lunches in noisy cafeterias. Triple beds in cramped dormitories.

Party, party, party.

In place of these now-defunct images, campus reopens with social distancing parameters and new teaching models that build on the lessons of the distance learning exercise of this last semester, while preserving the opportunity for emotional growth that university presents, especially for young adult students.

To be fair, the pandemic isn’t the only thing forcing higher education institutions to radically change the campus experience. Even before the COVID-19 era, the region’s small private colleges struggled to survive in the face of declining high school graduates, declining enrollments and declining tuition income.

Many analysts call the sudden shift in online learning a pandemic-induced experience. Vijay Govindarajan, Coxe Distinguished Professor of Management at the Tuck School of Business in Dartmouth, says the months-long trial of distance learning helped differentiate courses that engage a lively discourse from those that easily transfer knowledge into pre-recorded videos. These, he says, are deployed on a large scale and have little additional cost once established.

In March, teachers pushed their face-to-face teaching to Zoom. This tactic bears little resemblance to online education, said Govindarajan: “When you put lipstick on a pig, it always looks like a pig. You’re not really using technology to transform the learning experience.

Govindarajan claims that artificial intelligence-based education has the potential to diagnose a student’s learning needs in a way that a live teacher in a 90-minute lecture hall cannot. For example, a student watches a five-minute video in their free time and takes a quiz. If she gets the wrong answers, a chat bot will appear to provide her with more material to master the topic.

These predictive analytics are not a substitute for the teacher’s lesson, but AI technology can improve it.

Wayne Lesperance, vice president of academic affairs at New England College (NEC) in Henniker, is concerned about over-reliance on digital tools.

“The main concern of traditional-aged students is the lack of more sustained human interaction,” he said.

NEC sent a survey to its students and found that 85% were comfortable returning to campus. Lesperance says NEC’s enrollment rate is the highest in seven years, although freshman enrollment falls short of the school’s target.

“All this talk about students taking a year off has obviously made small private institutions focused on tuition fees nervous,” Lesperance said.

To guard against low enrollment, NEC promulgates a three-semester term, with the first semester ending at Thanksgiving and the final semester starting in February. In between, a seven-week session allows students to take courses online.

“We want to make sure that we have several points for integration,” he said.

Colby-Sawyer College in New London has not confirmed its academic calendar for next fall, but is considering options, according to Laura Sykes, vice president of academic affairs. The college welcomes four-year residency students and plans to welcome them again at the end of August. However, some bi-weekly courses may follow a hybrid model aimed at keeping students in small groups: Students are split into two groups, with the groups alternating between in-person and distance learning for each class session.

Sykes says that in this anxious and zoom-tired environment, students appreciate that faculty members spend the first few minutes of class checking on everyone’s well-being. It’s at least one protocol, she says, that will continue into the next semester.

“People are really stressed out about a lot of other things, and they are stressed out about online learning. ”

The dislocation and isolation affected many students, says clinical psychologist Marc Wilson, who also runs the online counseling program at Southern New Hampshire University (SNHU) and teaches face-to-face as an adjunct professor. First-year students, experiencing independence for the first time, had to regress by living with their parents.

“If a lot of students are to learn remotely, we have to find a way to take into account the psychological aspect of it,” he said. “For me, the lessons [from the spring] have more to do with the psychology of learning than pedagogy.

With so much uncertainty for the fall semester, Govindarajan recommends that colleges plan an entire year of hybrid online and in-person courses while developing expectations for instructors and students. “They can prepare for the worst and hope for the best. “

Dartmouth Provost Joseph Helble said on June 3 that the college will use a hybrid approach starting in the fall, although details of the plan will not be announced until later this month.

SNHU officials do more than that. College leaders have accelerated their 2023 plans to revamp the campus environment after being forced to empty college dorms and classrooms to stop the spread of the coronavirus. Incoming freshmen will take all of their general education credits online with a single full scholarship, paying only accommodation and board if they choose to live on campus. In subsequent years, students will be billed $ 10,000 in tuition, more than 60% less than the current rate.

Several low-cost pilots influenced SNHU’s deployment, including its associate’s degree program at a satellite campus in Salem, an online associate’s program in partnership with a Boston charter school, and Project Atlas, where a cohort of around 20 students of traditional age lived on the Manchester campus, participated in clubs and activities, came into contact with college coaches, but took their classes through the College For online program America designed for working adults.

“They [SNHU] took this journey earlier than others, ”said Govindarajan, starting with small experiences and moving up to scale.

In addition to its multi-story dormitories and cafeterias on a rural campus, SNHU hosts 130,000 online students.

Newcomers aged 18 and 19 will increase that online population, but spokesperson Lauren Keane said officials hope to retain some elements of face-to-face learning. How this will evolve remains to be seen, due to the threat of COVID-19. Traditional-aged students, she says, still need the coming-of-age experience and social emotional supports to thrive.

Switching to a fully online format is not a strategy Colby-Sawyer can afford. For one thing, says Sykes, many students don’t have a good internet connection at home and have to drive to the library or campus parking lot just to get Wi-Fi.

In the college’s general education courses, students build strong bonds with their faculty and with each other. “If we don’t,” said Sykes, “some of our students get lost and end up being transferred elsewhere.”

Colby-Sawyer lost $ 1 million in summer earnings due to canceled events, research conferences, and child care. “The prospect of not having a room and board [revenue] in the fall, if we have to be far away, it’s pretty scary, ”said Sykes.

Disclosure: In addition to being a freelance journalist, Sheryl Rich-Kern is an assistant instructor at SNHU.These articles are shared by The Granite State News Collaborative partners. For more information, visit collaborativenh.org.

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