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The Herald-Dispatch published this editorial on March 10 regarding COVID-19 effects on higher education:

The COVID-19 pandemic has been hard on higher education nationwide in many ways. That’s true in West Virginia, although perhaps not here as much as elsewhere.

As noted recently by HD Media reporter Courtney Hessler, West Virginia was one of four states that saw both its college undergraduate and graduate enrollment increase in the past year.

While the state is seeing an increase in enrollment, Marshall University officials said it has been a give and take in adjusting while trying to navigate the new waters of the pandemic. They said COVID-19 could have effects that will linger in programs for several years, but it is too early to tell what those might be.

While some Marshall University officials said applications to the university’s graduate programs have slowed, they haven’t had issues filling classes, Hessler reported. Financial hardship caused by COVID-19 and difficulty in finding child care caused by school closures are probable causes for the decline in applications, they said.

It sounds like Marshall will have to compete for students as the pandemic eases, and that’s a good thing.

For many years, a university education was seen as the ticket to a middle- class life. Students were willing to borrow the money to get such an education. COVID-19 undoubtedly has many prospective students questioning the correlation between a degree and affluence. While STEM fields have maintained that connection, there is growing doubt that liberal arts provide a step up in the job market compared to skilled trades.

Thanks to the internet, word gets around about what degrees are worth the time and money and what schools offer the best programs. Young people have more ability to track how certain degrees lead to careers in a variety of fields.

Universities, four-year colleges and community and technical colleges offer a variety of programs, tuition rates, financial aid, job placement rates, social environments and other matters of importance to students, whether the students are fresh out of high school or are in their 30s or 40s and looking for a career change.

Competition combined with the free flow of information benefits prospective students. Schools that try to serve the previous generation of students might not be the best fit for this generation or the next one. The next decade could see institutions of higher education fight for every available body to put in the classroom. Shrewd students should benefit.

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