You may have heard the saying “college is the best four years of your life” and for many this may have been true. However, current college students and recent alumni might disagree. Our college and university experiences have been like no generation before.
I started my undergraduate degree, in person, in 2017. And in 2021 I watched a youtube video that supposedly commemorated my experience. The transition from in-person to remote learning to a hybrid model was a jarring and overwhelming journey. The situation has brought both positive and negative outcomes that will be present in the education system for years to come. And has completely shifted the notion of what life is like in your early 20s.
Without social interaction, accountability, stability, or hands-on experience, students across the globe face grueling obstacles. Not to mention the added stress of time differences, virtual extracurriculars, no physical support system, and a stark lack of networking and career opportunities.
This combination forces graduating students to enter the world of adulthood in an abrupt and lackluster fashion, leaving us unprepared and unmotivated for work life.
As a fourth year university student in peak pandemic times my initial worry of fighting senioritis was replaced by an overburdening panic about post-graduation life. Apart from Googling “jobs near me” I didn’t have the slightest clue where to start the process.
I found myself in several virtual meetings with career counselors who insisted on telling me that “there were jobs available” and I simply needed to “make a portfolio” or “reach out to people via LinkedIn.” Failing to tell me where to find these jobs, what a portfolio should look like, and who exactly I should be “reaching out to.”
Everyday I was hit with an email saying “thank you for your application, but we are not hiring at this time.” Feeling more and more defeated and disconnected from reality, I realized I was trapped in a limbo between adulthood and childhood. My university experience would end from my childhood bedroom, and if I was fortunate to start my working life, it would begin from the same place.
As I neared the end of my degree and fell into a routine of applying to 20 jobs a day, I began receiving emails about starting to pay off my student loan. Feeling disconnected from the work I was producing, spending 16 hours a day in front of my laptop, and essentially functioning like a robot, I started to wonder if it was all worth it.
Yet, despite the obvious discontent students like me were facing, the societal expectation is still that young adults obtain an undergraduate degree.
This begs the question…
Will this societal practice change?
With skyrocketing tuition fees, is it worth finding yourself in years of debt for an education you can receive online?
And what about the education you can’t receive online? Student athletes, musicians, and artists find themselves facing major career setbacks.
According to a Next College Student Athlete survey, 30% of student-athletes are concerned that universities will eliminate their sport’s program entirely. Additionally, students relying on athletic scholarships and recruitment will likely fall through the cracks. Making their post-university transition even more grueling.
While it’s possible remote learning could help dissolve the eliteness associated with a college education, it also perpetuates the notion that college is solely about academia and research. And ignores the versatility of young adults, who are capable of being well-rounded individuals.
The transition to remote learning has also exposed numerous inequalities in the education system. Students without a reliable internet connection, laptop, or who require financial and academic help, are far more likely to postpone or forgo attending a post-secondary institution.
Without access to campus libraries and free wifi, students lack the environment necessary to be successful in college or university. The cost of utilities like hydro and electric bills, gas, phone, heat, and air-conditioning are also added expenses of remote learning.
According to an article by CNBC, 4 in 10 students need more financial aid than they did before the pandemic, and 1 in 7 students who did not previously require student aid are now in need of it. The additional financial burden and lack of social interaction resulted in the lowest college enrollment rates the United States has seen in two decades. In 2020 rates were down 66.2% compared to the year before.
With lower enrollment rates and a greater expectation for young adults to have an undergraduate degree, we are likely to see a discrepancy in the workforce moving forward. In the 2020-2021 school year, students of color, and particularly Native American students, saw the largest drop in college enrollment, particularly at two-year colleges.
With women and students of colour attending post-secondary institutions at a lower rate, they will face even greater challenges moving into positions of power as time goes on. If universities don’t begin to address these issues now, young adults face a life-long uphill battle.
University students today find themselves spending more on their education than previous generations and leaving with far less. The resilience of university aged students during the pandemic is not to be underestimated.
Collecting stories from readers like you can help us understand how to better support students today. Tell us about your experience as a young adult in pandemic times.