Survey data reveals impact of COVID-19 on perceptions of online education

If the world weren’t in the throes of a pandemic, the choice of studying online, in person, or something in between would be about the same for men and women, according to the results of a recent survey .

Taking COVID-19 into account, however, paints a different picture – one where women are much less likely than men to choose to study in person, and much more likely to choose an education option entirely in-person. line.

This gender divide is one of the most striking findings of a new study from the Strada Education Network released this week. Since March, Strada has been studying the impact of the pandemic on work and education in the United States through weekly or bi-weekly national surveys.

The latest data release focuses on the value of online learning, with questions indicating how the public perceives the effectiveness of online education, whether respondents would recommend online programs to their friends, and how much they believe that online credentials will be appreciated by future employers.

Various opinions

The Public Perspective: COVID-19 Work and Education The survey found that Americans’ perceptions of the quality and value of in-person, online, or hybrid education vary widely. The majority of respondents, 35%, felt that online education offered the best value for money. But online was seen as the least effective approach to learning and least likely to prepare students for success in their jobs and careers. One in ten respondents said they were likely to enroll in an online education or training program within the next six months.

Hybrid education, which mixes elements of online and in-person education, has been an consistently popular option throughout the survey, said Dave Clayton, senior vice president of consumer information at the Strada Education Network. . He doesn’t think respondents chose the hybrid because they couldn’t make a decision between online or in person. Rather, he believes that those interviewed chose this option because they see it as the best of both worlds.

Recent graduates of online programs rated their education higher than graduates of in-person programs. But most Americans (59%) think in-person education and training is valued more by employers than online training – an interesting finding, given that employers wouldn’t necessarily know that a degree has been awarded. obtained online unless the candidate discloses it. . And in recent years, a growing number of large employers have helped workers earn part-time online degrees with subsidized tuition programs.

About Strada Query data

Inside higher education and Strada Education Network Partner on Public Viewpoint. Strada provides funds to Inside higher education to support its coverage of survey data and related workforce issues. Inside higher education maintains editorial independence and complete discretion over its coverage.

The preference for online education varied among different demographic groups. People aged 25 to 49 expressed greater enthusiasm for online-only options than those aged 18 to 24 or 50 or older. Black Americans also viewed online education more favorably than Asian, White or Latino respondents, and were most confident in its quality.

“I can easily see how some black people would prefer the opportunity to learn in the comfort of their own homes, rather than physically sitting in classrooms where they are alone or among a few black students,” said Shaun Harper, a professor and executive director of the Race and Equity Center at the University of Southern California.

“Many black students frequently experience micro-aggression, stereotyping and other acts of racial violence in traditional classrooms,” Harper said. “It may very well be that some black Americans see virtual classrooms as spaces where they might meet less anti-blacks.”

The preference for online education over in-person or hybrid education may seem different among black Americans who plan to study at historically black colleges and universities, as these institutions “have built up a reputation as culturally assertive and less racist educational environments for black students, ”said Harper. .

However, he said black Americans considering online-only education should be wary of predatory for-profit institutions. “Too many of these institutions prey on low-income black Americans, especially black women who would return to adult school. While fully online options can be a convenient and enjoyable alternative to traditional racist classrooms, they could end up costing black students more money than the degrees from those places are ultimately worth.

A revealing gender divide

If COVID-19 was not a threat, about three in 10 Americans said they would prefer to study online rather than in person or hybrid. Andrew Hanson, research director at Strada, said the finding indicates an interest in online learning among the public that will continue beyond the pandemic. Before COVID-19, post-secondary education was becoming increasingly virtual, Hanson said – a trend he says will continue.

While in-person learning was still the preferred modality for respondents who were asked how they would choose to study if COVID-19 was not a concern, both men and women indicated a strong interest in it. blended learning. Of the women, 41% said they would choose in person, 30% hybrid, and 29% fully online. Of the men, 42 percent said they would prefer in person, 31 percent hybrid, and 27 percent fully online.

COVID-19 influenced the responses of men and women when asked which modality they would choose if they enroll in an education program within the next six months. Men’s choices changed slightly, with 33% saying they would choose entirely online, 36% hybrid, and 31% in person. But women said they were much more likely to pursue an option entirely online, with 48% choosing online, 30% hybrid, and 22% in person.

Women have been disproportionately affected by COVID-19, and perhaps that is why they feel they cannot pursue education in person, even though previously it would have been their preference, said C. Nicole Mason, President and CEO of the Institute for Women’s Policy. Research.

Women are more likely to have lost their jobs due to the pandemic and are more likely to care for children or family members at home, making it difficult to balance work, education and life family, Mason said.

Currently, more women than men are enrolled in higher education programs, but Mason fears an increase in the number of women, especially single mothers, who are dropping out or delaying their studies due to insufficient funds and a lack of funds. lack of support for childcare.

The IWPR and the American Association of University Women are pushing policy makers to introduce more funding for women pursuing higher education during the pandemic. Both organizations fear this will exacerbate existing inequalities for women. The IWPR is pushing for parents students be a priority in funding COVID-19 aid, among other policy initiatives. Reduce the burden of student loan debt is one of the priorities of the AAUW.

Earlier this year, the AAUW released a report which found that women hold nearly two-thirds of the country’s $ 1.54 trillion in student debt, with black women the most in debt when they complete their college degrees. first cycle.

“There is an additional burden and expectation on women to take care of their families and reorganize their lives because of the pandemic,” said Laura Segal, senior vice president of communications and external relations at AAUW . “When you add to that the students are graduating to record unemployment and a wage gap, it’s quite worrying. “

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