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Cooke: Degrees earned during pandemic won’t be worth more

Editor’s Note: All opinion section content reflects the views of the individual author only and does not represent a stance taken by The Collegian or its editorial board.

Adapting to unprecedented circumstances has defined this fall semester at Colorado State University. The COVID-19 pandemic has rearranged the way CSU is delivering education to students, with most students learning through some combination of in-person, online and hybrid classes. Naturally, students are mixed in their responses and attitudes toward this new normal.

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Given these circumstances, it’s understandable for students to question just how much their degree is worth and whether or not the pandemic changes that for better or worse. Despite the stress and novelty of learning during a pandemic, a student’s diploma shouldn’t be considered more valuable than any other diploma because of it.

It might be true that COVID-19 has an effect on which degrees will become more valuable or desired in the future. For instance, within the context of a rising popularity of science, technology, engineering and math degrees, public health will almost undoubtedly become a highly sought-after career path for college graduates.

But it shouldn’t make a difference that an individual earned that degree during the pandemic of 2020. Firsthand experience with the pandemic certainly has its merits, but those merits shouldn’t extend to the value of a diploma.

“Occupations that thrive on the kind of engaged, personal and glitch-free communication that comes with in-person interaction probably won’t find a more remote style of operations valuable.”

Having completed a semester or three in a unique online format shouldn’t set 2020 graduates apart from the crowd. Online enrollment for colleges across the United States has been on the rise for the past several years, suggesting that a trend toward remote learning was underway long before the pandemic accelerated it.

Also, a significant portion of in-person college learning was already online before everything transitioned in March. Navigating Canvas and RAMweb, corresponding with professors over email and submitting online student work are skills that were just as valuable before the COVID-19 pandemic forced the school to rely mostly on virtual interaction.

Sure, adapting quickly to uncontrollable circumstances and continuing our education in spite of them is remarkable. But COVID-19 doesn’t add value to such an education, especially if there’s evidence to suggest that adaptation was going to happen anyway.

The fact that students pushed through the headache that accompanies our COVID-19-influenced education shouldn’t make our degrees more valuable than those who came before us. Unfortunately, stress has been a growing problem for American college students for some time now.

If having earned a degree despite very stressful circumstances makes a student’s degree more valuable, then the value of degrees should have been on the rise before the pandemic and not because of it.

My colleague Cat Blouch argues, “The element of perseverance displayed by students who make the dedication to their education creates value for the degree earned during a pandemic. Students’ perseverance throughout these stressful and immensely disorienting semesters should certainly be acknowledged, but these circumstances don’t qualify our collective education for a higher value.

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“Firsthand experience within the pandemic certainly has its merits, but those merits shouldn’t extend to the value of a diploma.”

Along the lines of future careers, Blouch makes a good point about the value of communication on the job. With reference to changing work environment expectations, she argues that “being well-versed in remote learning indicates a stronger sense of the communication style we will expect within the post-pandemic workplace.”

I can understand that if more jobs truly expect employees to “work remotely and asynchronously,” then having that experience today puts graduates at an advantage.

But one has to wonder exactly which jobs will be adapting to that kind of communication style. Twitter seems to be in favor of it, but I doubt that careers across the board will welcome a less personalized and removed approach to business, opting for virtual instead of face-to-face interactions even after it becomes safe to do things in person again.

Occupations that thrive on the kind of engaged, personal and glitch-free communication that comes with in-person interaction probably won’t find remote operation valuable. To never have physically met our therapist, adviser or mentor might not be in our best interest.

Also, shouldn’t we ask ourselves if such a change is valuable in and of itself before we start labeling degrees that prepare students for that change as valuable?

Blouch and I can certainly agree that the current circumstances are bizarre and that they will have significant impacts on college graduates now and in the future, but, with those future graduates in mind, it is unjustified to label current students’ degrees as more valuable simply because they earned them during these circumstances.

Editor’s Note: The opposing viewpoint for this head-to-head can be found here.

Cody Cooke can be reached at letters@collegian.com or on Twitter @CodyCooke17.

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About the Contributor
Cody Cooke
Cody Cooke, Opinion Director
Cody Cooke is the director of the opinion desk for The Collegian and has worked for the newspaper since December 2019. He is a senior studying English and history with a concentration in creative writing. Cooke joined the opinion desk as a consistent way to sharpen his writing and to get involved with other student writers. He began as a columnist and remained a regular writer for more than a year before moving into his director position. He sees opinion writing as a rich and important combination of argumentation and journalism — a way to present facts that goes beyond objective reporting and makes a point. He also sees it as one of the most accessible platforms for any writer to start building a career. Working at The Collegian has taught him to be accountable and responsible for his own work while being proud of creating something worth sharing to a large audience. While not always easy, Cooke's time at The Collegian has been one of the most constructive and satisfying experiences of his collegiate career. 

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