AUSTIN (Nexstar) — One in 10 Texas college or university students have experienced an interruption to their education over the last year due to COVID-19, according to The 101: The Texas Higher Ed Poll.
The 101 reports 15% of those who were surveyed said a family member experienced an interruption.
The poll is a joint coordination between WGU Texas, Independent Colleges & Universities of Texas and the Texas Association of Community Colleges and surveyed 800 Texans statewide.
Now, as restrictions are loosening across the state, education advocates are recommending ways to address problems ranging from cost to accessibility.
While the vast majority of those polled still indicate the value of higher education, it’s no secret many students in Texas and across the country have struggled to adjust to virtual learning. That includes Talya Shalev at the University of Texas at Austin.
“Having it not being face to face, I feel like took me a really long time to adjust,” Shalev, a junior, explained.
In addition to the isolation taking a major mental toll, she said she’s not sure she and her fellow classmates are getting the same quality education as they were in person.
“Now I just feel like it’s a waste of money and a waste of time, in a sense,” Shalev said.
Cost has topped the higher ed’s poll for barriers to higher education for years.
“It’s telling that they are staying consistent over years. In other words, I don’t know how much we’re moving the needle,” Dr. Steve Johnson, president of Independent Colleges & Universities of Texas President, explained.
But this year, tuition became even more difficult with job losses and connectivity costs.
“They just kind of expected everyone to have access. I’m lucky that I have internet, and I have a laptop to use,” Shalev said.
The 101 reports more than a third of Texans had to purchase new equipment to continue work or school online, 87% of whom were not reimbursed for their purchases.
That’s something education experts say state and federal leaders can address.
“Continuing to seek particularly federal grants, but also trying to incentivize public private partnerships at the local and regional level,” Johnson said.
The digital divide isn’t anything new, however. Johnson explained COVID-19 heightened the problem, and it’s more than just physical devices and access to internet.
“Equally as important is what’s called adoption, and that’s usually around affordability. So a student may have access to [internet], but it is not simply affordable for the student,” Johnson said, explaining the state’s effort to expand broadband access won’t immediately close the gap.
There’s another difference the pandemic has shed light on, though.
“There are students of course, that still want an in-person experience,” Johnson said.
While the push to continue hybrid education models will continue even after the pandemic, students like Shalev will still want some type of face-to-face interaction.
“Where students access you know, course content, or have some delivery of curriculum online, while they also have maybe one day a week, whatever the time is to go to campus and have an in-person experience,” Johnson said.
This interaction is something Shalev said she hopes professors can offer more of going forward for online classes, even if the conversation is virtual.
“Maybe if professors at the beginning of the semester, the first class of the semester, they set up meeting times to have one-on-one conversations with students for like five minutes. And just kind of say like, ‘Hi, like, how are you doing? I want to know if there’s anything going on what your circumstances are,'” Shalev explained.