People from older generations gasp when I tell them about my fully virtual freshman year at Ferris. I appreciate their concern for students during a pandemic, but they overlook the many benefits of online learning.
First and foremost, Zoom, Microsoft Teams and even Discord made it possible for me to start my college life in unfortunate circumstances. When I graduated high school in 2020, Covid cases were rising and a vaccine was still unimaginable. The whole world felt unsure. By the summer of 2021, I completed 29 credits and my first semester at the Torch, all from the comfort of my home in northern Michigan.
The world is somewhat different now. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention report that over 100 million Americans are fully vaccinated and boosted, plus nearly 80% of the population received at least one dose. With this summer’s “silent surge” hospitalizing nearly six thousand new Covid patients per day, I am grateful to still have the opportunity to take half of my classes online this semester.
Online classes offer a unique opportunity for work-life balance. To quote Melanie Kasparian, associate director of assessment at Northeastern College of Professional Studies, “there’s really no right time to study, as long as it fits your life.” This open time management is invaluable when tuition costs have risen 179.2% over the last 20 years, as reported by the Education Data Initiative.
A professor of mine once said that college students are less involved on campus than in years past. When less than half the class raised their hands when asked who was in any extra-curriculars, I expressed that it is because students have jobs. When asked who is working, the remaining hands went up. Nicole Smith, chief economist at the Georgetown University Center on Education and the Workforce, calls working in college “the new normal.”
Not only do online classes offer time to make money, they also teach important skills for communicating in the 2020s. An American Opportunity Survey from the spring showed that most workers have the opportunity to work from home one day a week. Thirty-five percent of workers can work remotely full time. Today, people may log-in to their jobs rather than clock-in.
Becoming well versed in online communication is truly a life skill now. I think everyone joining the workforce should be more than efficient with consistent emails, phone calls, Zoom meetings and have the ability to quickly learn new platforms. Remote work can be comfortable, but it still requires real internal discipline.
No matter which phase of the pandemic we are in today, I recommend Ferris students take advantage of the choice to take online courses when they can.