Learning techniques currently being used out of necessity at institutions of higher education will continue to be used in greater frequency once the current health emergency is under control, according to President Barry M. Maloney. But he emphasized that Worcester State students do best with real-time interaction with faculty, whether they are physically in the same classroom or online.
Maloney was a panelist on the Worcester Business Journal’s webinar “COVID-19: Reshaping Higher Education” on Tuesday, Aug. 11, which explored the impact of the pandemic on higher education. Other panelists included Susan West Engelkemeyer, Ph.D. president of Nichols College in Dudley, Mass.; Luis G. Pedraja, Ph.D. president of Quinsigamond Community College; and Paul Reville, Francis Keppel Professor of Practice of Educational Policy and Administration at the Harvard Graduate School of Education and founding director of the Education Redesign Lab.
Maloney noted that pre-pandemic, Worcester State was already embracing online learning with the launch of master’s degree programs in education and nursing.
“I think we will see in all of higher ed an expansion of distance learning, but we also have to balance that with the realities that [some of] our students have disadvantages coming into colleges. Fifty percent [of undergraduates] are first-generation college students so they have a very shallow support network at home and students are feeling their way into higher education at a different rate and fashion,” he said, noting that the majority of Worcester State students want to come back to campus to learn.
With 80 percent of classes this fall being online or a mix of online and in person, Maloney said he is keenly aware that students may feel anxious about the new learning environment—and the state of the world in general.
“As part of our reopening plan, we place an emphasis on students’ mental health. We are adding layers of support, regardless of whether they are in person or online,” he said.
Another trend Maloney highlighted is that students and families are less interested in traveling far to attend college.
“I think that will be accelerated. We have benefited from being in the city of Worcester—the investment that has been going on here regionally, and the work has been going on to collaborate with the business community and others, are paying dividends in terms of the front doors for all our institutions,” he said.
Access to education must be a high priority going forward, whether that means an expansion of programs that allow high school students to earn college credits before graduating, or embracing different kinds of credentials that will help young people succeed in the workplace.
“I think some of the frustration we’re seeing in our society is coming from people who feel they are being left behind,” said Maloney.
Webinar moderator Peter Stanton, CEO and publisher of the Worcester Business Journal, noted that Worcester and the surrounding area includes 10 private and six public institutions of higher education with more than 12,000 employees and 40,000 full- and part-time students.
View a recording of the webinar here: https://www.wbjournal.com/HigherEducation
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