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How the Recession Could Change Education

Jul 6, 2012 Jennifer Williamson, Distance Columnist | 0 Comments

Whether you’re a student, a professor, or an administrator, chances are you’ve seen the effects of the recession at your school. The recession is having a wide impact on all industries and demographics throughout the US. If it lasts long enough, it could change the face of education—either temporarily or on a permanent basis. Here are a few of the ways the recession is already making itself felt for college students and educators.

Online education could gain wider acceptance

Distance education universites have already gained mention from several prominent politicians as a way to bring college costs down. It’s more than possible that, as college tuition continues to rise and student debt gets more and more burdensome, online education is going to start looking like a better alternative to many students. And as student demand rises and technology improves, it’s possible that online degrees will gain wider acceptance both in academia and in the workplace. This trend is happening anyway—but it’s possible the recession could speed it up.

Online “Badges” could gain prevalence

Student on Laptop

The recession is likely to have an impact that will be felt for years to come in education—even after the economy improves.


Schools all over the country are experimenting with the online education “badge” system, which gives students a credential for completing a course and learning a particular skill. It’s possible that students will start to see the badge system as a credible and affordable alternative to an expensive degree program—and as it becomes more common, employers may start to recognize it as well.

More workplace-related majors and programs

As the recession intensifies, expensive liberal arts colleges are continually coming under scrutiny as parents and students ask whether degrees from these institutions are “worth it.” There has always been a certain amount of conflict between two different learning philosophies prevalent at colleges—the learning-for-learning’s-sake and the prepare-for-the-workforce philosophies. And as ideal as the first outlook is for many, the reality is that many students and parents want to see a return on their investment—and can’t afford not to consider which online degree programs and schools are most likely to get career results that are worth the tuition price.

Higher competition for fewer aid dollars

Student aid is already shrinking at the federal level—despite President Obama’s earlier attempts to expand it. Now, it’s likely that even as more students need federal and other types of aid, the pools will continue to shrink—and the government and other aid-granting organizations will have to tighten restrictions on who qualifies for aid. In the meantime, the competition will intensify. With difficult economic conditions combined with continually rising tuition, it’s likely that more students and their families will need aid of all kinds—and fewer will get it.

You’ll spend more at college to get less

Colleges might be raising tuition, but that doesn’t mean they’re rich. Colleges typically invest their funds, and many were hit hard by the recession’s effect on the stock market. Add to that larger numbers of students dropping out or transferring due to financial reasons and more limited access to loans in some cases, and many colleges are struggling to find ways to make up the difference. That means higher tuition and fees, but also cost-cutting measures across the board.

The recession is likely to have an impact that will be felt for years to come in education—even after the economy improves. Hopefully, the more negative effects—such as reduced access to federal aid dollars and private scholarships—will not last past the recession itself. However, it’s possible that the recession will have a more permanent impact that attitudes about certain facets of education.


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