How the Pandemic Changed CA’s Higher Education

How the Pandemic Changed CAs Higher Education

The beginning of the pandemic presented tremendous uncertainty for California’s higher education institutions. Students, families, and staff have had to make many adjustments to adapt to a quickly changing educational landscape. While some have adapted and settled into new routines a year into the crisis, numerous aspects of college life remain unclear.

Here are a few ways the pandemic changed California’s higher education system, and what types of issues will need to be addressed in the upcoming years.

Instruction and Learning 

Students at institutions across the state were forced to abandon their campus living situations. Many returned home to reside with family. Instructors scrambled to create and deliver virtual lesson plans. Entire curriculum needed to be revamped with no warning. This rapid change to the overall instructional experience affected both students and staff in some significant and unexpected ways.

Much-Needed Flexibility

Above all else, flexibility became a necessity for everyone. Professors were required to present their class material in various ways to meet student needs. Some students found themselves lacking sufficient internet access or proper equipment. Others may have needed to find work to provide financial assistance to their families. Many students ended up living in crowded conditions with little privacy for online class sessions and studying. This created the need for changes in curriculum, teaching methods, and assessment standards.

Continuing Online Classes

The majority of coursework remained online going into the 2020 – 2021 school year. As the pandemic was continuing to rampage in varying degrees as the year wore on, this made sense. The question now is whether it’s necessary to continue the adopted distance education option as more of the population becomes vaccinated and everyday life shifts to pre-pandemic norms.

The option of adding back in on-campus learning would allow students who need or prefer this format to continue pursuing their desired program in a way that suits them best. Some students have discovered they are thriving in distance learning.

Others may need to remain away from school to meet Covid-imposed obligations. Students with physical or mental health conditions may find this method more accessible and amenable to their learning style.

Specific programs have more benefit by adding back in the in-person instruction.


Examples of these include:

  • Nursing
  • Technical
  • Science labs
  • Communication
  • Music
  • Theatre

An imposed directive may feel arbitrary, and it may be necessary to explore more fully what online education options are still needed for improvement. Some higher education professionals may prefer to remain flexible, focusing on meeting the individual needs of their students, rather than reverting to pre-pandemic norms too soon.

Future Implications 

Many faculty and academic professionals are looking at ways to reach their students in ways that best accommodate them to serve their students. They are taking what they’ve learned throughout this challenging time to create programs that allow their students to learn efficiently and effectively.

In many cases, this will involve hybrid options that allow students to reap the needed benefits of in-person contact with the flexibility of online access. For example, students in a communications class may receive the optimal experience of giving their speeches to a live audience while still being able to do some learning online and to meet with their professor over Zoom rather than trekking to campus for office hours.

One final aspect of higher education that needs to be addressed in the future due to the pandemic’s impact is the financial state of institutions.

Some educational institutions were struggling pre-pandemic. California has seen a significant decline in funding for higher education over the past several years.

The impact of increasing technical costs and decreasing enrollment due to the pandemic is likely to be seen far into the future.

Fall 2020 Freshman enrollment declined across the state by 13.1%. Overall enrollment numbers fell by 2.5%. Other contributing factors are lost revenue in residence fees and sports programs. California community college enrollment numbers were hit hardest of all.

In contrast, ​​​​the California State University system enrolled its largest-ever student body for the fall 2020 term. The 23 campuses of the university collectively enrolled 485,549 students, surpassing the previous enrollment high of 484,297 in fall 2017 and more than 3,600 students greater than fall 2019 (481,929).

This is a testament to the dedication of the Unit 4 Employees who work for the CSU system.

The pandemic has changed higher education in vast and significant ways. It has also brought issues to the surface that have long needed to be addressed. Hopefully, moving forward, California’s higher education system can use lessons learned during this time to provide improved educational opportunities for our students.

APC applauds all of our union members for the work they’ve done to make the CSU student experience the best it could be during the pandemic.