Isabella Cervantes

Rachel Young, an associate professor and director of undergraduate studies, works with a group of students in her class in the Adler Journalism building on Thursday, March 24, 2022.

Higher education institutions faces a new normal after two years into pandemic

University of Iowa faculty reflect on the evolution of education since the beginning of COVID-19.

After two years, the University of Iowa and higher education continue to adapt to the changes implemented because of the COVID-19 pandemic.

The university lost millions of dollars and many professors switched to online schooling for the very first time when COVID-19 began.

The financial impacts of COVID-19 at the UI

The university took a financial hit after the pandemic began. The UI lost over $185 million from March 2020 to February 2021 because of tuition revenue losses, refunds to students, COVID-19 response expenses, and state budget cuts.

The net total included federal aid that the university received from various funds, including the Higher Education Emergency Relief Fund, or HEERF:

  • HEERF I, or the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act, 2020 was signed into law on March 27, 2020. The UI received and disbursed $8.1 million to students.
  • HEERF II, or the Coronavirus Response and Relief Supplemental Appropriations Act, was signed into law on Dec. 27, 2020. The UI received and disbursed $8.1 million to students.
  • HEERF III, or the American Rescue Plan, was signed into law on March 11, 2021. The UI received and disbursed $22.4 million to students.

Data visualization by Kate Perez/The Daily Iowan

Cindy Seyfer, UI assistant provost and director of the Office of Student Financial Aid, wrote in an email to The Daily Iowan that the latest report from Jan. 7 on the UI’s HEERF reporting website documents the funds that were distributed in fall 2021 that totaled $11.7 million.

The Office of Student Financial Aid is currently working on the report of the distribution of the spring HEERF III funds, she wrote.

“These funds were disbursed in mid-March. The report is due in mid-April,” Seyfer wrote. “The final report in April will document the expenditure of the rest of the funds in spring totaling expenditures of $22,421,229 for the academic year 2021-2022.”

Adapting to new instruction

Before the pandemic, the majority of UI classes took place in person, with less than 20 percent held online. After COVID-19 was reported in the U.S., however, the university switched fully online, ushering professors and students into new territory.

Rachel Young, a UI associate professor and director of the undergraduate journalism and mass communication program, said her students have enjoyed her online courses and the ability to work on the courses when they see fit.

“My lectures have been asynchronous, which means I record them,” she said. “I actually put them on YouTube so that way it’s easy for [students] to know where they stop and start, and they can always have the link.”

Young said she reconsidered how to approach assessments with online classes. Instead of exams, she switched to weekly quizzes with no time limit for students to use notes and ask clarifying questions.

“I think it encourages more learning beyond the exam format that we’ve had for so long just because that’s the way it’s always been done really,” she said.

Young said the variety of options for class methods at the UI has created more options and flexibility. She added that the addition of class options could potentially mean higher class enrollment numbers.

“When the Media Uses and Effects class went from synchronous online to asynchronous, our enrollment really shot up because I think students were looking for an asynchronous option and there weren’t as many of them as in the past,” Young said.

Despite the pandemic leading to a decrease in college enrollment and retention rates nationwide, the UI did not follow the national trends, according to the Iowa Board of Regents’ fall 2021 graduation and retention report.

  • The number of students returning for a second year at the UI remained the same at 88 percent
  • 87 percent of the entering class of 2020 returned for their second year at regent institutions.
  • The overall regent institutions’ four-year graduation rate improved from 52 percent to 54 percent.
  • The overall regent institutions’ six-year graduation rate improved from 72 to 74 percent.
  • The percent of entering UI students who graduate in four years increased from 55 percent to 57 percent.

Sandy Daack-Hirsch, a UI professor and executive associate dean of the College of Nursing, said trying to have all students complete their clinicals while continuing to be safe proved one of the most difficult aspects of the nursing program during the early months of the pandemic.

The program contains 80 students per cohort and had to rotate students through clinical sessions so they could get their hours and graduate on time.

“We all went online as much as possible, but in the College of Nursing, students still have to have clinical practicum hours,” Daack-Hirsch said. “You still have to have contact with your patients, and you still have to be able to perform certain skills in real time.”

She said in the last two years, students and faculty took extra precaution by wearing PPE to protect against contracting the virus, Daack-Hirsch said. During the fall 2020 semester, nursing program classes were held in person, despite the university being online.

Daack-Hirsch said it was difficult for students to ensure that they kept others in their cohort and the nursing program safe. At one point, the program had “mini contact tracing” in place to ensure the college could monitor who was sick and how to help them stay on track to graduate.

“To be in-person, students had to have masks and face shields and so did the faculty, and then pretty much had to treat all of our education environment as if we were caring for patients in that environment so that we could minimize transmission of COVID,” she said.

While navigating COVID-19 as an educator, Young said she tries to be aware of the transitions that continually happen and to use those times as an opportunity to reflect.

“There’s no way to go back to the world the way it was, even if we wanted to,” she said. “If anything, it has been positive…It was really challenging, but we’ve had to think about why we do things the way we do, and that can be a positive because it causes you to be a lot more intentional about something.”

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