Fall semester online courses could impact enrollment for SC universities, colleges

Updated: Apr. 16, 2020 at 9:29 PM EDT
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COLUMBIA, S.C. (WIS) - The Coronavirus Aid Relief and Economic Security Act, also known as the CARES ACT, is providing millions of dollars to private and public universities and colleges in South Carolina in the coming weeks.

It's aimed at getting relief to students who are struggling financially this semester, but as enrollment deadlines for the fall semester are looming, many students and faculty face uncertainty about what the next semester of learning will look like

UofSC officials said on Thursday that it’s too early to predict what the fall semester might look like, but that a fall semester of virtual classes isn’t off the table. This possibility is something that has many students thinking twice about enrollment and what another semester of online learning means for their education.

“I’m taking everything day by day at the moment,” UofSC junior Will Hollerung said. “It’s definitely going to be disappointing and I’m going to feel a lot more stress and anxiety entering the workforce with almost a full year behind me of online classes.”

Hollerung said many students feel stress and anxiety about the potential for a fall semester of online classes.

“Students are just frustrated, students are really frustrated,” Hollerung said.

Hollerung added he worries about having the skills he needs to graduate next year if the classes are online. He believes, if students don’t return to campus, it might mean some students don’t return at all.

“Online classes at the University of South Carolina are expensive and either people will be taking a gap year or since we do have a lot of out of state students -- for example, I’m from North Carolina. If I go back to Raleigh, I may be able to take some online classes through a local community college,” Hollerung said.

UofSC theatre professor Lindsay Rae Taylor said students in her classes have been voicing similar concerns.

“I had a meeting with some students yesterday and a few of them said that getting an arts degree online is not ideal,” Taylor said. “That’s really not what they’re paying for, right? And they might consider taking a gap year.”

UofSC officials said summer classes and freshman orientation will be online, but no decisions have been made for the fall.

Last fall, UofSC welcomed a little over 6,000 freshmen to campus, but concerns over dropping enrollment are shared by other universities as well.

“Were we not to be able to welcome students back to campus, we do fear students will opt for choices closer to home or online alternatives at other institutions that might be slightly less expensive for them,” Benedict College President Dr. Roslyn Clark Artis said.

Dr. Artis said it’s a concern for their university, especially since they are private and they rely on the tuition dollars for funding.

“What students are paying for when they come to an institution like Benedict College, that experience with faculty and staff, the campus environment that is conducive to your personal and professional development. We call it our special sauce,” she said.

Dr. Artis said she’s seen application numbers go up for Benedict College, but both Benedict College and UofSC officials tell me it’s too early to predict what enrollment might look like in the fall. Dr. Artis said a challenging year might be ahead for colleges and universities.

U of SC and Benedict College said they will make a decision about fall classes by the middle to end of June but both are trying to help students financially as they prepare to enroll.

Benedict College has removed the housing deposit for those enrolling and UofSC has moved the deposit date back to June 1.

Benedict College officials said they began reimbursing students for things like unused room and board and meals yesterday. Uof SC officials said they are also in the process or reimbursing for parking, housing, and meals.

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