The Covid-19 pandemic was arguably the largest shock to American education in generations. In a matter of days, students and teachers swapped classrooms for Chromebooks and school desks for kitchen tables. Schools and parents needed to figure out how to secure reliable internet for children, and college students had to decide whether undergraduate schooling was worth the price if you couldn’t be on campus. The past year has also highlighted discrepancies in how local school districts responded to the pandemic, as well as gaps in digital access across states.
Here are four snapshots of how the pandemic changed education in America:
In most states, more than 80 percent of children in both public and private schools transitioned to remote learning during the pandemic; however, a handful of others reported much lower rates. According to the Census Bureau, just 39 percent of respondents in South Dakota said students shifted to remote learning while 100 percent of West Virginia respondents said the same.
While a large majority of parents want their students to return to regular classrooms next year, a significant minority actually preferred the new arrangements that started during the pandemic. According to a POLITICO-Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health survey of public K-12 school parents, a total of 29 percent of parents would prefer their children continue with some form of remote learning — 13 percent want to remain fully online, while another 16 percent want a combination of online and in-classroom instruction.
While there have been concerted efforts to provide devices, hot spots and other resources to students without reliable internet access at home, some states have been more successful than others at tackling the digital divide.
A report published by Common Sense Media found that in Mississippi, 50 percent of students did not have adequate high-speed internet connection to partake in remote classes, and 36 percent did not have access to suitable devices. The tech divide for teachers is the greatest in the state as well — with 23 percent of teachers lacking adequate connection and 5 percent lacking the necessary devices to hold classes.
That said, every state reported a notable digital divide. Even in states like New Hampshire or Washington — which seemingly have some of the smallest gaps in tech access — one in five students don’t have access to reliable internet.
Higher education institutions witnessed shifts in enrollment during the pandemic. Undergraduate enrollment was down for all student groups in spring 2021— averaging a 4.5 percent decline from a year ago. The National Student Clearinghouse Research Center found that international and Native American students had the greatest fall off, with 15.6 percent fewer international students and 12.5 percent fewer Native Americans enrolled in college compared to the spring of 2020.
On the flip side, graduate enrollment is up 4.3 percent, across all racial student groups. The sharpest increase was among Latinx students, who saw a 14 percent uptick in enrollment from last spring. International graduate students were the only group whose graduate school enrollment declined in the pandemic.