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The Changing Face of Post-Secondary Education

The COVID-19 pandemic forced post-secondary institutions to quickly transition to online learning in the spring of 2020 without adequate time for students or professors to prepare.
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Now that a new semester has begun and it looks as though online learning will be the new normal, at least for the time being, students are starting to question the high cost of tuition in a learning environment that feels less than ideal. Some students are considering enrolling in universities that specialize in distance learning, like Athabasca University, while others are postponing their education until in-person classes resume.

According to a CTV news report, tuitions at major universities across the country are increasing for the 20/21 school year. The University of Manitoba saw a tuition increase of 3.75%, the University of Toronto scheduled an increase to undergrad tuition of 5.4% and the University of Guelph was considering a fee increase for international students somewhere between 3% and 15%.

On top of provincial budget cuts affecting universities’ revenues, COVID-19 travel restrictions have drastically reduced the number of international students attending Canadian post-secondary institutions. International students pay significantly higher tuition fees than domestic students. A $6 billion drop in international student fees across Canadian universities was estimated for the 2020/2021 school year.

Student groups are calling for tuitions to be reduced during the pandemic. Students are organizing petitions and even class-action lawsuits demanding their post-secondary institutions refund tuition based on claims that online versions of their courses are of a lower quality.

The Canadian Federation of Students along with the Canadian Association of University Teachers conducted a study between April and May of 2020. Their results showed that 75% of the students who were planning on returning to school were concerned about the quality of their education.

With all of these unknowns, one must wonder if we are witnessing the beginning of the end of post-secondary education as we know it. It is estimated that nearly half of US colleges and universities are at risk of shutting down completely.

While most don’t believe that brick-and-mortar post-secondary institutions will be gone for good, some predict changes in the way that courses are offered in the future. The pandemic has forced students and instructors to embrace digital tools in order to enhance online lectures. Open-source learning platforms like Moodle and online course portals like Coursera are being utilized alongside video conference technology to create multi-faceted and, hopefully, engaging course delivery. Some of these technologies will become permanent tools in the future, even after in-person classes resume.

As with most parts of life during this pandemic, flexibility and adaptability are key. Post-secondary institutions, students, and professors are all continually adapting to online learning and fluctuating budgets.