5 Predictions for 2021 That Will Affect Your Classroom

Higher Ed 2021 Predictions
Online LearningResearch

Article Summary

  • In 2021, students will expect to have conversations about race, social justice and mental health concerns in class|Because of an unstable employment landscape, students are anxious to learn soft skills that will prepare them for remote and digital jobs|Demand for affordable course materials will remain high|Missing the traditional campus experience, students will seek to reconnect to the community
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Reading Time: 3 minutes

If 2020 taught us anything, it’s that we can’t see into the future with any accuracy. For college students, this year was an unexpected, volatile rollercoaster that disrupted every aspect of campus life.

However, educators still need to plan for next year. Recent reports and student surveys give a peek at what the future holds for higher education. Here are five trends that may affect your college classroom in 2021:

1. Students will demand more affordable course materials.

College students’ budgets have always been strained, but the pandemic compounded this stress. Some worrying statistics identified in this report include:

  • Two-thirds of students who had jobs before the pandemic experienced job insecurity, and one-third lost their jobs.
  • 21% of students applied for unemployment insurance, 15% applied for SNAP benefits and 15% applied for emergency aid.

In addition, students and families are asking for tuition reduction. According to 13,000 college students, 93% believe tuition should be lowered if classes are held fully online.

With this pressure, in 2021, students will look for ways to save money across the college experience. They’ll demand that the class materials required to purchase for your course—like textbooks, art supplies, lab notebooks and more—be more affordable.

2. Students will expect to be prepared for a new kind of work.

College students are stressed about not finding a job after graduation. A survey of 2,000 undergraduates found 55% feel “somewhat prepared for their career after graduation,” and only 13% felt “very prepared.”

Current students know unemployment continues to hit record highs. They watched Millennials graduate into a recession that strangled long-term career growth. They’ve also had their internships canceled, cutting off opportunities to gain experience and a foothold into their career.

In 2021 this anxiety will spill over into their classes. They will expect their professors to teach the soft skills they need to be ready for an employment landscape that McKinsey predicts will be more digital, more remote and more entrepreneurial than ever before.

3. Students will want to reconnect to campus life.

This year lacked so many of the fun activities that make college special. In one survey, more than a quarter of students polled said they missed the social support and feeling of a true college experience.

While we don’t know if or when social gatherings will be safe in 2021, professors can create a sense of community in their class, even if it is fully virtual. Almost one-third of students reported that their university’s online communities helped them feel more connected to other students, instructors and the institution during the pandemic.

In 2021, students will seek ways to connect on campus. If classes and social events remain online, hybrid or distanced, their main conduit will be your course.

4. Students will demand action on social justice issues.

Inspired by this summer’s protests over the horrific killings of Breonna Taylor and George Floyd, many institutions issued statements and made commitments to address diversity and inclusion challenges.

Students haven’t forgotten these promises—they’ll continue to scrutinize the administration and demand action. They will expect to attend classes with a diverse student body, be educated by diverse teachers, be taught anti-racist ideas and have their colleges and universities be run by diverse administrators.

Be prepared for difficult conversations about race. Students will look to you as an example; be ready to take action in your classes.

5. Classroom conversations about mental health will feel normal.

Everything about 2020 induced anxiety. Almost half of Americans reported that the COVID-19 pandemic affected their mental health. It’s even higher for college students: 82% said they’re dealing with anxiety.

However, something else happened in 2020. We started talking about our anxieties and stressors. Therapy became a normal part of conversations. In fact, 71% of students say they’d use tele-mental health services at their school if they had access.

Fear of discrimination is the main reason college students don’t seek mental health help. By talking about these issues, we’re reducing the stigma.

In 2021, the trend of normalizing mental health conversations will accelerate—and hopefully, continue to take place in classrooms too. Educators can and should help their students with anxiety and stress.

To learn how you can further support students in the year to come—no matter your role—check out these suggestions from a fellow educator.


You can also use this peer-created guide for all things tied to online learning, including course setup, student engagement and more.