Saskatchewan post-secondary students concerned over missed experiences from virtual learning

Click to play video: 'Concern about new undergrads’ university path'
Concern about new undergrads’ university path
WATCH: One public policy researcher has concerns about the future of first- and second-year university students getting an education during the COVID-19 pandemic and student unions are noticing online learning isn't for everyone – Jan 7, 2021

Student unions from three of Saskatchewan’s largest post-secondary institutions are concerned about how much students are getting out of their classes through virtual learning.

Institutions have adjusted since the COVID-19 pandemic started in March and students applaud the changes made to keep staff, faculty and their peers safe.

However, they only see learning virtually as a part-time solution and believe they’re missing something with courses taking place from living rooms and kitchens instead of classrooms and laboratories.

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While some are able to cope with the changes and enjoy its flexibility, one public policy researcher is concerned about the future of post-secondary students for what he calls the COVID generation.

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Ken Coates noted many young people are doing all they can to learn from home, but are also discovering how important it is to be self-motivated.

“My guess is that we’re going to have a lot of students who have already opted out of university in the fall of 2020. More will opt out in winter of 2021,” said the Canada research chair in regional innovation at the University of Saskatchewan’s Johnson-Shoyama Graduate School of Public Policy.

He believes anxiety levels are very high for students between their classes, job prospects for the short and long term, the economy and climate change.

The University of Saskatchewan reported 736 undergraduate students dropped out of classes in the fall 2020 semester — about 3.9 per cent of all undergrad students.

That’s up from 3.1 per cent in fall 2019.

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The University of Saskatchewan Students’ Union (USSU) said for first-year students, the social aspect of university can really help students find their feet.

“Those connections are vital in your university career. They help you, influence you to choose different things you might not have thought of for courses … and they also can help keep you motivated,” vice president of student affairs Jory McKay said.

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At the University of Regina, the drop-out numbers are trending in the opposite direction.

Fall 2019 saw just shy of 294 students leave the school for a two per cent drop out rate.

That decreased to about 258 in fall 2020 with the rate falling to 1.8 per cent.

Click to play video: 'U of R offering free online mental health support for students across province'
U of R offering free online mental health support for students across province

The student union president said he’s heard from students who say they don’t feel they’re getting everything they were expecting given the financial costs of post secondary.

“We are not just paying for a piece of paper in respect to a degree. We are paying for the experience that comes with it,” Gurjinder Singh Lehal told Global News.

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Saskatchewan Polytechnic saw a decrease of 1.8 per cent in enrolment from fall 2019 to fall 2020.

The institute believes the small dip could be due to travel restrictions affecting international students.

A statement from Saskatchewan Polytechnic said it didn’t see much of a change in dropout rates, but didn’t supply figures.

The president of the students’ association penned a letter to the premier and advanced education minister on Dec. 22 calling for adjustments to tuition.

“Students are struggling with the learning from home environment. We are facing issues that no group of students have ever encountered before us. We are receiving less of an educational experience, and we are paying just as much,” read the letter from Jesse White.

White noted a number of students reached out to the association regarding online learning which is what influenced him to reach out to both the institution and the province.

Global News also reached out to First Nations University and the Saskatchewan Indian Institute of Technologies, but didn’t receive data before publication.

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