College students graduate during COVID-19 pandemic via Facebook Live

Students everywhere are missing out on typical graduation ceremonies, normally held in packed arenas, stadiums, churches, and amphitheaters. Gone are the caps and gowns, tassels, and sashes, representing degrees with distinctive honors or doctoral designations, traded in for casual clothing from the comfort of our living rooms. Yet, opportunities for students of all kinds are opening up in ways we have not experienced before on our mainstream college campuses, such as the University of Tennessee at Martin (UTM), led by Dr. Keith Carver, the 11th chancellor of this west Tennessee university.

The hybrid learning model may be here to stay

Like many colleges around the United States, UTM went from hosting 7,300 students in a residential environment to telecommuting on practically a moment’s notice in the middle of the semester, sending students and faculty home to reconnect online to continue their studies. According to Dr. Carver, “Summer enrollment is actually up in terms of full-time enrollment. We’ve got faculty who’ve never offered their courses online before saying, ‘I’m going to offer this (class) this summer’ and students are responding.”

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Shout Your Cause podcast interview screen capture between Sally Hendrick and Dr. Keith Carver.

Even the fall semester is up-in-the-air as to how classes will resume. Dr. Carver believes that the hybrid model is here to stay, which gives an opportunity for dual-enrollment capacity. Imagine a Civil War buff who wants to audit a history class or a human resources officer that wants to take a course to get a certification necessary for career advancement. There are cultural opportunities abound as well, such as a Spanish language class gathering for a play performed in Spanish in a nearby city. Not all learning will necessarily take place in the classroom.

Graduations are taking place online

Current graduating students are missing the typical walk across the stage to pick up their diplomas, the firm handshakes of affirmation from faculty and staff, and the family photographs with beaming smiles of accomplishment and pride. But families are also coming together in unique ways to celebrate their graduates from home and from afar.

Facebook Live screen capture of UT Martin’s 2020 Spring Commencement Ceremony

Keaton Wilson of Humboldt, Tennessee, graduated from UTM on Saturday, May 2, 2020, wearing shorts and a t-shirt, posing for a quick picture with his graduation cap that wouldn’t stay on his head, while surrounded by family in an online video conference.

Screen capture from a Zoom video conference.

Watching the ceremony on Facebook Live presented the opportunity for everyone to be together virtually, as one couple drove to Florida, another group watched from another state, one watched while stationed overseas in the military, while the graduate himself tuned in from West Tennessee.

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The job market for graduates poses a challenge

The job market for these graduates is posing a challenge as the economy is in a deep recession, causing uncertainty in how their careers will begin. Fortunately for Keaton, he has several options to choose from that stem from his past experiences working at a children’s summer camp, tutoring at the writing center at his university, and editing books for authors professionally and for college credit. Though he is not sure these positions fit into his long-term career goals, he is grateful for the opportunities he has in light of the situation.

Shout Your Cause podcast interview between Sally Hendrick and Keaton Wilson

College choices are changing for high school graduates

As the pandemic threatens to continue, some colleges are already planning to offer online classes in the fall. This is filtering into the decision-making process for high school seniors as to which colleges they plan to attend. Suddenly, it may not make sense to enroll in an upper-crust university in the northeast with a hefty price-tag if the experience is not going to include the social activities and in-person opportunities expected. The impact on the economy is also a factor in where graduates will attend, as their family’s financial situations may not allow them the freedom they once had. Elizabeth Antony, an independent college counselor, has a client who is changing her mind about the school she plans to attend “because of the uncertainty of the financial aspect of paying for college.”

Shout Your Cause podcast interview between Sally Hendrick and Elizabeth Antony

Listen to the “Shout Your Cause” Podcast

You can listen to Shout Your Cause on Spotify or on Apple Podcasts.

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