For generations, an in-person college experience has been lauded as a necessary component of experiencing American adulthood in its entirety. Until COVID-19 threw the world off its proverbial axis, school from home was off the table for most.
Back in the fall of 2020, many students faced a harrowing decision: Return to campus and do hybrid versions of classes, or stay at home and complete their courses from there.
What students didn’t know at the time is that the shift to doing school from home has been happening gradually for years, long before COVID-19. Postsecondary student enrollment has declined annually from 1% to 2%. In comparison, the number of students taking online courses grew by 5% annually, according to a joint study released by Arizona State University and Boston Consulting Group.
In a time of ultimate uncertainty, made clear by the pandemic that prompted the theme of this article, it’s comforting to know that others have been gravitating to virtual learning before the doom and gloom.
As long as COVID-19 moves ever onward with its seemingly endless list of variants, and with more and more universities making entirely online undergraduate degrees attainable, students graduating from high school will have more flexibility with the avenue taken to pursue their undergraduate degree with each passing year.
With that flexibility in mind, let’s get into why doing school from home is preferable — from someone who has done undergraduate work in both realms.
For starters, it’s good to know the industry has been financially backing a trend to attend school from home for quite a while. According to market research company Technavio, the eLearning market would have grown to $6 billion from 2017-2022, even before the pandemic. For students, a large market ensures that the technology needed to accommodate a complete shift to online learning will likely be provided by their chosen institution.
A common roadblock of online courses for undergraduates is the uncertainty that leaving the physical classroom represents. Many students would be surprised to learn that online learning, even pre-pandemic, has become more common than the public thinks. A new report with federal data states that roughly 50% of all college students have taken at least one online course prior to the pandemic.
The numbers reflect that school from home has become a popular trend for college students across the United States, as well as a strong market interest. Which begs the question: What are the tangible benefits?
From personal experience, doing school from home is a fantastic way to save money. College students are often burdened with an extremely tight schedule; days full of lectures and homework make the task of finding adequate funds to feed themselves difficult. Relying on your parents to handle the grocery bill allows critical time for a student to invest more into their academics. It helps provide a solution for those stuck between going to school and working.
On a related note, school from home can also be a unique opportunity to gain an advantage in the nutrition department over the typical college student. The freshman 15 is more than just the stuff of folklore; its existence has been proven. The exact amount of weight typically gained is slightly exaggerated in the saying, but a recent NYU study shows that students gain an average of 1.5-6.8 pounds in their first semester of college. The same study found that college students commonly engage in other erratic behaviors such as meal skipping and eating at fast-food restaurants 1-3 times a week.
These bad eating habits occur as a result of the rigorous burden postsecondary academia places on young adults in addition to the task of living away from family for the first time. For many, eating unhealthy foods from drive-thrus is easier to work into their schedules than blocking out the required time for a healthy home-cooked meal.
Research supports the notion that students can learn better when they’re well-nourished. It also supports the idea that well-nourished students are better prepared to cope with stressful situations.
Another buffer for stressful situations is having your support system present during such a crucial transitional period of life. Doing school from home means that a student will most likely have someone who checks on their well-being when they get home from school, which is far from the reality that most students experience on college campuses. The random roommate found on Facebook just weeks before move-in likely won’t care to hear about a failed exam or troubles with a significant other, but a mother likely will. Additionally, the decision to do school from home allows for the opportunity to sustain close familial relationships and eliminate the common phenomenon of feeling homesick.
Looking past the physical and emotional benefits that school from home provides, it also makes for a better academic experience. According to the Boston Consulting Group study (funded by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation), students who took both digital and face-to-face classes had higher retention and graduation rates than those who solely took classes in-person.
Surprisingly, more practicality can be found in the digital academic world than the physical one. It comes down to simplicity; as students, videos often provide a substantial learning advantage over physical documents. Additionally, most professors record their lectures on Zoom and post them for their students to watch an unlimited number of times, which is a stark difference from an in-person professor who likes to switch from slide to slide at a pace that most students can’t keep up with.
For those on the fence on whether school from home is the right option for you, it’s true that doing school from home naturally cuts into the university experience. Going off to college allows some to find their ideal balance of freedom and enable others to be the best version of themselves.
But studies show that doing school from home can be equally as effective, if not more so than leaving home to go off to college. Regardless, there’s value in knowing that both options are readily available.