Higher Education Grapples With The Pandemic

Mar 25, 2020

The "Bronze Students" near WMU's Waldo Library
Credit Andy Robins / WMUK

COVID-19 is having a huge impact on higher education nationwide. Colleges and universities have shifted to online classes during the pandemic.


Former Western Michigan University professor now teaches history and library science at Saint Johns University in New York City. Sylvian says the expanding outbreak has brought traditional teaching methods to a screeching halt.

"Graduate seminars where we sit around the table for several hours and talk about it. And obviously we can't do that any longer. So, I've had to readjust everything."

Sylvian says she's worried about the long-term effects the pandemic could have on the future of higher education. She's afraid the pandemic will accelerate the trend toward online instruction.

"And to move further away from traditional classrooms, largely driven more by a financial model and staffing concerns rather than the intellectual value and really what's best for the student."

Sylvian now teaches history and library science at Saint Johns University in New York. She says many of her students say they feel isolated when all of their classes are online.

Then there's the problem some students face getting online.

"Located in Queens, New York, I'm painfully aware of the enormous void that exits among our students in terms of their ability to purchase both the devices and the services that you need to fully participate in this online realm."

Sylvian says many of her students say they miss the campus experience.

"Many of them indicate that when they go into that online world, how isolated they feel from their peers. They feel isolated from the faculty. I think a lot of them feel that they don't have that same warm and fuzzy and strong connection with the campus itself."

The coronavirus crisis has caused special problems for graduate students, especially those in the humanities. Sylvian says it's now nearly impossible for them to get the internships they need to launch careers with employers like museums and the National Park Service.

"How do I help them prepare for careers in institutions like that when we can't actually get them there? There's only so much that you can do online."

Sylvian says she doesn't see any easy solutions, at least in the short-term.