Distance learn ing

AT&T recently launched an advertising campaign that sought to depict its rivals as “just OK” on issues of reliability and network speed.

We take no position on whether AT&T’s 5G network is better than OK, but the fact that this commercial still comes to mind says something about the viability of this campaign.

Maybe after six weeks or more of school closures, it’s time to borrow from Madison Avenue and call online learning what it is: The “just OK” of education.

Across the country, and certainly in St. Joseph, teachers heroically attempted to continue education online. They can point to plenty of success, with videos, slides, quizzes and meet-ups that keep the wheels of education moving. But success can be uneven, with some teachers more engaged than others and some students lacking either the motivation or the technology to reciprocate.

After the nation’s classrooms moved online, a Gallup poll found that 51% of parents were generally comfortable with distance learning, saying they are not too concerned about the impact on their children’s education. The other 49% were “very concerned or moderately concerned” about a child falling behind.

That’s a pretty “Minnesota nice” endorsement.

That Gallup survey, taken in early April, tracks the views of parents of kindergarten through 12th-grade students. They are the parents who don’t have much of a choice right now.

It’s the colleges and universities that should really be concerned about lukewarm reviews of online learning. That’s because college students fork over thousands of dollars for tuition and room and board, on a voluntarily basis.

If they don’t like the online focus, if they think it’s not quite the same as being in the same room as the teacher, there’s always next year.

Arts&Science Group, a higher education research firm, surveyed 1,171 students and found that 1 in 6 high school seniors are planning to change their college plans because of the coronavirus. Of those who are changing plans, 16% say they will take a gap year.

“We expect to see an increase in gap years and, actually, gap semesters,” said Angel Pérez, chief executive of the National Association for College Admission Counseling.

Administrators at Northwest Missouri State University and Benedictine College must have been aware of this sentiment when they announced plans to hold in-person classes on campus in the fall semester. In these parts, a part-time job or the military are probably more common than a gap year, with its posh connotation of travel abroad.

But the cause and effect is the same. Students will take a hard look at how they spend their money, and colleges know it.

Northwest and other universities are right to look for a return to a traditional campus experience. We hope it can happen.