We’re finally learning how incoming freshmen have handled their first year as college students now that the Fall 2020 semester has ended. In short: It’s not looking good for universities.
Perhaps the best summary of what’s happened can be found in NPR’s recent report on the stunning phenomena we’re witnessing, thanks to data from the National Student Clearinghouse and its research center:
- Total undergraduate enrollment fell by 3.9% compared to Fall 2019
- Same-year high school graduates who enrolled in college is down by 21.7%
- A near 33% decline of high-poverty high school graduates attending college
College enrollment nationwide had already fallen 11% from 2011 to 2019, but the declines we see are even more drastic than previous years. What we have here is a cautionary tale for higher education.
To an extent, we find these results to be good. Prospective students should be skeptical about higher education institutions that charge exorbitant tuition rates they don’t have to charge, provide outdated curricula with obsolete pedagogy, and do little-to-nothing to prepare them for a meaningful life and career.
Look no further than Brian Williams, the 2020 high school graduate NPR interviewed, for an example of these concerns, “We had no money for [college], and I’m not trying to go into debt and pay that for the rest of my life.”
But we hope these characteristics aren’t hastily generalized to all universities. There is no reason for education leaders to sit by while letting the system fall in on itself.
Focusing on what students need – and want
It’s no secret that the result of the pandemic response has led to universities cutting frills that were less about preparing students for a life of meaning and more about marketing frills, from sports stadiums to luxurious dorms.
But NPR reports that they’re also cutting faculty and entire departments. When a university has to tighten its belt and strap down, why would it need to permanently cut entire majors? It seems plausible that it’s because such programs weren’t serving their students’ needs.
What’s needed is a business-integrated program, something the Fairfax University of America is committed to.
We’re not offering cheap gimmicks to attract students and asking them to go into exorbitant amounts of debt. We’re offering a curriculum that’s been developed and reviewed by business experts – people who are looking to employ these students when they graduate. It’s a business-focused education that trusts students can receive the benefits of a more nuanced liberal arts education without being denied the opportunity to learn to be.
Essentially, we know they can learn to critically analyze and discover their identity and worldviews, and design a life of social impact and self-fulfillment, without needing to sacrifice practical, hard skills that will make them immediately and continually attractive to employers.
Whether explicitly stated or implicitly accepted, students want a degree so they can get a good career. They want to flourish and prosper, and universities have been failing at satisfying that most basic customer need.
Williams posed to NPR what is inherently a manifestation of this need, and is the question being asked by the incoming generation: Is college “really worth it?”
It can be. And at FXUA, it is.