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Will remote learning remain after COVID-19 pandemic?

As coronavirus cases continue to rise, schools and colleges are struggling with transitioning to classroom rules and remote learning. With the pandemic’s end nowhere in sight, many students and teachers alike are unsure how education will change in the coming months. Deloitte Consulting Principal Roy Mathew joins The Final Round panel to discuss.

Video Transcript

JENNIFER ROGERS: Welcome back to Yahoo Finance's education special. What's next for America's schools? So a little over a month ago all of the headlines were about colleges and universities. UNC Chapel Hill sending students home, Notre Dame moving classes online. People everywhere just shaking their hands-- heads-- or throwing up their hands about basically young people doing what they do best, partying at school.

Is it all behind us, though, now? The headlines are certainly dying. Down let's get to the heart of the matter and talk about the balance of the semester and the year. What is it going to look like? And bring in Roy Matthew. He's Principal at Deloitte Consulting.

So, Roy, you talk to these administrators all the time. These are your clients. These universities and colleges, do they think that they have figured out how to operate in a COVID world? Or are they still bracing themselves for what's to come?

ROY MATTHEW: Jen, thanks for having me. The short answer is, everybody's still bracing themselves for what comes next. I think it's really important to think about what the last six months have looked like for colleges and universities across the country. The last six months have done more-- has done more disruption in this industry than the last six decades combined. You think about it, overnight, universities had to switch from in-person classroom learning, research in labs, housing, dining, students on campus, athletics in full swing.

Overnight they had to shift to a completely online mode and that wasn't easy. That's like asking a cruise liner to take a sharp left turn immediately. It doesn't happen that easily. And so, the good news in all of this is, spring semester or spring quarter completed. It wasn't elegant, but classes were completed and students graduated or students completed their sessions on time.

The bright spot, you know, fast forward six months later is, you look at the latest numbers that have come out this week, the overall enrollment dip in the fall is only 3%. If you remember, a couple of months ago we were all speculating saying, what is the impact of this pandemic on fall semester or fall session? And there was, you know, forecasts of 10% and 20% dip. Well, it's about 3%. And so that is probably the best news that colleges and universities can have during this time.

However, the other side of the coin is the long term impact is still playing out. And there are a couple of key things to think about. Number one, the financial impact is real. A lot of universities-- publics, privates, whether you're large, medium, or small-- you're taking a financial hit. And it's not on the enrollment side, it's on the auxiliaries. So think of the revenue that came in from housing, dining, athletics, bookstore, you know, restaurants on campus. All that has virtually come to a shutdown, right? And so that's number one.

Number two, the quality of education. While we could all sit here and say, great, we've figured out how online learning works. And, you know, faculty and students are interacting. The experience is not that great. We did a survey not too long ago where we asked students-- thousands of students-- what has that online learning experience been like in college? And 80% of students actually rated that online learning experience as neutral or negative. So we could all check the box saying, yes, we've figured this out. But if that experience isn't engaging, then we have a problem.

And the third one, which is starting to emerge in the last few weeks, more than ever before, is student mental health and well being. This is not easy on students. And so the impact that this is having on the life of students, the inability to interact with their colleagues and classmates, and just the social life that they had outside of the classroom on campus, that's taking a huge toll on students.

So those are some of the key impacts that are going on right now. And it's still playing out. We haven't reached the end of that movie.

MYLES UDLAND: Well, and Roy, I mean, obviously, if we go back in time to the last time we spoke, all we needed to do was try to get the doors open, right? That's all administrators tried to do through the summer. But it really sounds like, in your outline as the school year has started, the long tail that this is creating of problems for these universities is-- it sounds like it's much larger than anybody had really been thinking about. Even given how large the problems seemed back in May and June.

ROY MATTHEW: Yeah. No, it's a fair point, Myles. And the thing to think about is, the average 18 to 24-year-old is going to behave like the average 18 to 24-year-old. So I think it's unfair to blame students for being students. I think a lot of universities have done a fine job putting all the precautions in place, all the way from health equipment to safety to creating engaging experiences for students.

But you can't control every single action of every single, you know, member on campus. And so a lot of universities have done a really nice job creating this culture of community and saying that every individual's actions are going to impact all of us. So how do you build that sense of community to say, we're all in this together?

So from a short term perspective, I think some campuses have done a nice job reopening in person or in a hybrid mode. And some others have not. And that's just, you know, how the spectrum goes. But to your point, the long term impact is going to play out for many years. It's financial, it's student mental health, it is the cyber and risk impact around, you know, everything being done online right now. And everything may not be done in the most safe and secure way. And that's starting to rear its ugly head right now.

And so these are some of the long term impacts that, even if we magically-- even if the pandemic magically disappears tomorrow, this is going to play out for a number of years and it's going to fundamentally shift the higher education industry and the model globally.

JENNIFER ROGERS: As it's playing out, and these are serious issues, jobs are on the line, health is on the line. I have to tell you, one thing parents are talking about, though-- and I'm not trying to make light of it-- is, do you think it's going to be harder or easier to get into college in the next few years?

ROY MATTHEW: I personally think-- I mean it obviously depends on the university-- but I think considering the fear of what's going to happen to enrollment-- you know, you look at the last decade. Enrollment in the US in colleges has declined. And so with universities having that financial pressure to make sure that, you know, they don't create some sort of deficit by being too selective, there are a number of universities that have said, we're going to make sure that we give the benefit of the doubt this year and next year to prospective students to make sure that we don't have an enrollment issue. Because that automatically translates to financial.

So if you're an aspiring college student out there this year or next year, I think this is a great year to apply for-- and I know you couldn't have timed, this but if you're in the 11th grade or 12th grade, you're graduating high school and you're thinking about college and you're wondering whether you should take a gap year or sit out a couple of years, I would personally apply because this is the year to apply. It doesn't mean that colleges are going to change their acceptance standards or admissions standards. All of that is evolving as usual. But all else being equal, this is a great year to apply.

JENNIFER ROGERS: Roy Matthew, great to get a chance to talk with you again. Deloitte Consulting Principal. Have a great weekend.