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Student Perspective: Expectations, Hopes & Fears for Fall 2021

Student Perspective: Expectations, Hopes & Fears for Fall 2021

After a challenging year in education, millions of students are preparing to go back to school. At StepEx21, we brought several students together from a variety of institutions and backgrounds to speak out on our panel about their hopes, fears and expectation for fall of 2021.

Here are their stories.

1. The Value of Your Education Pre- and Post- Pandemic

Q. Agree or disagree, and explain: My college degree will be worth the same as one earned before the pandemic.

The panel unanimously agreed their college degrees are worth the same as degrees earned before the pandemic. Some students suggested their degrees are worth even more. They see opportunity ahead for a variety of majors.

Lindsay Wightman, a Hospitality major from the University of Central Florida, believes her degree is more valuable than ever, because travel bans in 2020 will create huge demand when the world opens back up for good. Mishael Duarte, a Computer Science student at the University of Maryland Global Campus (UMGC), believes tech jobs were able to thrive during the pandemic, because the transition to remote work was easier than in other industries.

One student shared her unique experience from the lens of a parent. Amanda Low, Health Services Management major from UMGC, compared her experience in 2020 to her college-aged son's experience, who was also learning from home.

Amanda returned to school after years in the workforce and is unsure how her degree will impact employment, but she is sure that UMGC has the online infrastructure to support her. What she questions instead is how employers will view her son's online education from a traditionally brick-and-mortar university. His struggles were noticeable, and she wonders if employers will consider 2020 a gap year. One way to convince employers otherwise is to power-up your resume. Other students on the panel were also quick to state that not all online education is equal.

Lindsay from UCF, a university well-known for its on-campus (not online) experience, shared that when she started in the fall of 2020 her program had already worked out difficulties from the spring, and she felt her online classes were executed well. Kevin Cantor, also a student of Hospitality at UCF, shared a similar experience and felt his professors were accessible and available during a really difficult time. He added that being in Orlando and working at a hotel during the pandemic was "really crazy," but has no complaints how his school handled the transition.

Q&A: Teaching Future Flexibility With Georgia State University

Q. How concerned are you about the pandemic's impact on your employment prospects and ability to pay for expenses after graduation?

Olivia McKenzie, English major at Georgia State University, is not concerned. Freelance writing provides a large source of income in her field, and even before the pandemic, a remote system was already in place to find work through publishing companies, newspapers and magazines. Olivia also shared that the pandemic forced her to engage with this system sooner than she would have otherwise. She had more time to work on personal projects and make connections that she would not have found in an in-person setting.

Overall, students seemed to express confidence about their future employment prospects. Universities with established online degree programs are adequately preparing their students for future success in the workplace, and employers have noticed.

Q. How has the pandemic impacted internships at your institutions and how do you feel about internships as we move into fall 2021?

Thomas Nixon, a Psychology and Sociology major at UMGC, applauds his institution for promoting a variety of career readiness resources, including internships. His observation is that the pandemic paved the way for service agencies, private companies and the government to open additional opportunities for students and new hires.

Mishael from UMGC has a different opinion. He feels that remote internships lack the trust-building opportunities that an in-person role provides. He also used words like credibility, reliability and responsibility. These qualities are harder to convey and discern through a screen, and so is the first impression, which is compromised in a virtual setting. 

One of the challenges for online internships is replicating the in-person experience. On the flip-side, virtual internships help students develop strong time-management and organizational skills. Another advantage is the world of opportunity that opens up to those living in rural areas. Imagine landing your dream role at a top company without having to relocate.

How UMGC Grew Student Engagement by 347%

2. Your Institution's Response to the Pandemic

Q. What does your personal college campus experience look like in the fall of 2021?

Shirley Leach is earning her master's in Distance Education and E-Learning at UMGC. As an online student, her experience looks virtually the same as it did before the pandemic. Her only wish is that she had been better prepared to use Zoom and other communication tools made more prominent and necessary because of COVID-19.

Amanda from UMGC predicts this fall will be easier since her children are returning to the classroom. She'll have more time to devote to her own online studies and less time spent helping family members with theirs.

At UCF, Lindsay says she'll have the option to choose between online and in-person learning. She also points out that masks and vaccinations are optional, but strongly recommended by state guidelines and mandates.

One fear expressed during the discussion is that our social skills have atrophied behind our screens. The good news is that more face-to-face opportunities are opening up, and we'll have the chance to exercise these skills soon.

Q. How has your institution's Career Services center adapted to meet new needs that arose during the pandemic? Has it been successful?

Kevin finds Career Services at UCF more accessible than ever. Their team has worked hard to put everything online, including the addition of pop-up Zoom sessions. Kevin appreciates the flexibility and convenience of being able to meet from home, without an appointment or commute to campus.

At UMGC, Amanda and Thomas are exposed to a "wealth" of career readiness resources built directly into their curriculum. By meeting students where they already spend time, awareness and adoption rates can skyrocket. 

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