Due to the pandemic, it appears that higher education is once again in trouble. Early data for spring enrollment predicts a 4.5 percent dip in undergraduate attendance compared to the same semester last year. Overall enrolment for the Winter semester is down 2.9 percent. After a year of transitioning to online or hybrid learning approaches, this means trouble for universities and colleges that have invested so much in ensuring that their classes can continue safely.

Luckily, hope is on the horizon in the form of the American Rescue Plan relief bill. Aimed to help improve education after the disruptions of the past year, the bill provides funding to education, including colleges and universities, to help campuses meet COVID-19 safety standards, reduce class sizes, invest in virtual technology, and offer summer school. For schools that have been struggling for the past year, this could offer an opportunity to improve their current approaches to education, hopefully attracting new undergraduate students. 

For institutions that aren’t used to having to create virtual learning environments, it can be daunting to try to understand and implement new technology. But if higher education wants to succeed and truly benefit from the American Rescue Plan, virtual learning technology will be the best way to approach the new semester. We’ve broken down some higher education technology to consider when planning the upcoming semester.

Virtual Queues

Whether student services are operating online or in-person, virtual queues will be necessary to create a safe and stress-free learning environment for students and staff. In fact, they’ve been known to improve satisfaction by up to 99%.

For in-person services, students can join and wait in virtual queues from wherever they are — whether on-campus or at home. This allows them to comfortably wait for appointments while completing tasks or schoolwork. It also helps them wait at a distance from other people, which is pivotal for physical distancing guidelines. Using text or email services, virtual queues will keep students updated on wait times and their place in line, allowing them to arrive at student services just in time for their appointments. For online services, the virtual queues function in the same way but can be used for either video or phone calls with their advisor. 

These options allow for multiple lines with the same office or campus. That means that depending on the service — course changes, student fees, or questions — the student can choose the appropriate line. This shortens wait times for students and saves employees’ time spent redirecting students to the correct service or individual. 

Interactive Video Conferencing 

To facilitate a more engaging virtual learning environment, colleges and universities need to invest in quality video conferencing software that allows students to interact with their teachers and classmates. Although many schools may be thinking of opening up as the vaccine distribution plan becomes increasingly effective, it’s still important to ensure video conferencing capabilities are available for students that want to continue with online learning or a hybrid approach. Giving multiple options for how students learn can help to increase enrolment, as well as help to reduce class sizes.

Another reason schools need to continue with hybrid and online learning is because the university-aged population, from age 18 to 29, are among the least likely to say that they would get vaccinated. The American Rescue Plan wants to help schools meet COVID-19 safety standards and having unvaccinated individuals on highly populated campuses is in direct contrast to those recommendations. Even as the vaccine strategy is rolled out across the country, it’s important to remember that vaccines are recommended, not mandatory, and that some students may refuse to get them. 

Video conferencing technology should be interactive to encourage a participative virtual learning environment, meaning that teachers should be able to create discussions, break-out rooms, and poll questions to facilitate learning. They should also be user-friendly for students and staff that may not be technologically savvy.

Virtual Learning Management System

Used to provide additional resources to students, virtual learning management systems are imperative in an online or hybrid learning approach. These educational platforms typically allow for students to access resources, textbooks, and lectures online, as well as facilitating discussion, and activities, such as tests. Having a robust and user-friendly system to provide these experiences can also be helpful for entirely in-person courses, as they allow easy access for teachers to all student assignments, quizzes, and questions. 

When investing in a learning management system, schools need to consider what options they are looking for — whether it’s simply a portal for online lectures or a place for discussions and assignments. From there, find solutions that are specifically tailored to higher education needs. It’s also important to ensure the solutions are simple so that students and staff can access them no matter what virtual learning technology or infrastructure they have available to them. Higher education providers don’t want to deter potential students because their computers or WiFi can’t handle the virtual learning environment. Ensure that these systems are helpful to students, not barriers to accessing education. 

Virtual technology can help to facilitate safer learning environments, improve access to education and reduce class sizes, all of which are aspects addressed in the American Rescue Plan. With this potential funding, higher education needs to invest in solutions that will be useful in the short-term but can also benefit students and staff in the long-term. Look for the above solutions and partner with trusted providers to ensure that your college or university is prepared to deliver a robust virtual learning environment for the spring semester.