Survey: 4 In 10 Parents Say Their Kids Changed Their Minds About College Because of E-Learning

The changes brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic over the past year have been a catalyst for unprecedented levels of change and innovation in many domains, and education is no exception. 

Online learning has become a necessity overnight, but even after the first waves of lockdowns were behind us and the shock factor of the overwhelming changes started to fade, it kept sparking discussions. 

What if e-learning isn’t just a temporary solution? Will education ever be the same again? Do we even want it to?

Da Vinci Collaborative ran a nationwide survey in May to learn how the fast-forward transition to remote and hybrid education models has influenced parents’ and teens’ perception of the college experience, how e-learning is likely to change the overall academic journey if it is to stick long-term, and if it would have an impact on (or has already affected) the willingness to go to college.

Makeshift solution turned disruptor?

Although in the first phase of the transition it might have seemed that remote education was only going to be here to put out the fire, the overall sentiment of the surveyed parents is that e-learning should remain. And that is regardless if social distancing will continue to be necessary or everything else goes back to the way it used to be.

We expected parents would be eager to have their children back within the brick-and-mortar confines of school soon. However, close to 40% of parents would prefer if their kids continued to learn exclusively from home, and a further 44.8% lean towards some form of hybrid regime.

Teens are rethinking their career plans because of online learning

It’s hardly surprising at this point that the education system was inevitably going to suffer some changes at least in methodology, but it looks like the impact of just one year of social distancing might spiral further than that. Although the direction is uncertain as of yet, the responses of the vast majority of parents suggest that ripples of the past year’s events might very well carry into the labor market of the near future.

Nearly 4 out of 10 parents report that their children have already changed their minds about their careers seeing the mass transition to online learning, and a further 17.6% said they are considering a different option from their initial choice as a result. 

Only 16.8% of the respondents say that the paradigm shift doesn’t weigh enough in the decision making to influence their children’s career choices. There’s also about a quarter of the families left who have yet to have this discussion, but don’t exclude the possibility of e-learning being the factor that will tip the balance.

Zoom tuition? The Ivy League premium might not be worth it anymore

With so many aspects of higher education going through a phase of rejuvenation, it’s only a matter of time before the public addresses the elephant in the room. The starting point is as clear as can be: college tuition is too expensive, and for many families, the burden of student debt outweighs the benefits

It begs the question: if students are learning online, is tuition still worth it? Would this wave of reforms be the window of opportunity to bring an end to the student debt crisis, too? 

Despite the colossal strain on families’ budget and implicitly, the country’s economy, 42.4% of parents think getting a higher education is a good investment, even with the shift to remote learning and the transition phase carrying the risk of at least a temporary drop in quality. 

Feeding back to the previous point about the desire to continue to study from home, this gives us a good context: it’s not about the money. However, the second-largest cohort (15.6%) says that while the importance of education does indeed outweigh the financial difficulties, prestigious schools are not worth the premium anymore in the online learning era. 

14.4% of parents are on the fence, saying that once schools fully adapt to online teaching, tuition will be justifiable again, and a comparable proportion (14.0%) argues that online school is not the same service anymore, therefore it should be cheaper. The remaining 13.6% is split evenly between those who think paying the same tuition makes sense, as long as remote learning helps the family achieve savings elsewhere, and those who would altogether refuse paying for online college education.

Responses from lower-income families confirm that the results reflect a genuine desire to transition to permanent remote learning rather than a willingness to compromise in hopes of a more affordable education. 

While most parents earning up to $50,000 answered that online education should be cheaper (20.59%), 63.23% gave answers that suggest tuition continues to be justifiable with online learning, or can be justifiable under certain conditions.

Why the optimism then?

After a year of seeing it in action, families are clearly confident about the future potential of e-learning. 

What’s more, 45% of parents think it’s just scratching the surface and it’s going to revolutionize education as we know it, and a further 32% think it will unlock some new opportunities if given time. About 14% think it’s going to stay but it’s already reached most of its potential, and less than 5% think it’s the wrong direction and we should go back to traditional learning.

It’s good for the family budget

While tuition doesn’t seem to be bothering parents more than before, 39% see the financial benefits as the most solid argument in the case for remote learning. Reduced physical exposure is second in line with a strong 31%, trumping a better school-work balance (14%), the benefits of more family time (16%), and other aspects such as transportation.

With that said, the work element of the equation is not to be ignored. In a separate question, 74% of respondents answered that online learning is highly beneficial for work-study balance, while just 15% responded with a clear no. The remaining 11% don’t see a direct correlation between remote studying and the ability to work on the side, suggesting a comparable outlook to the traditional way of learning.

The quality of education doesn’t have to suffer

The results of the next segment of our survey give a testament to people’s trust invested in the American higher education system. 

When asked whether they think a college degree obtained via an overwhelmingly online-based education plan would reflect the same level of preparedness as what we’re accustomed to, two out of three parents participating in the survey gave a positive response. A further 15% argue we’re not there yet, but as more advanced learning tools become available the quality of education would be comparable to the traditional way. About 17% think online education will underperform no matter what, or that it’s only useful under extraordinary circumstances. Only 6% think universities should meet a set of reviewed online education standards before claiming to offer the same level of quality.

Exams conducted online don’t seem to be a major concern with 59% saying they’re interchangeable with traditional, in-person assessments (only 19 of which specified they would restrict online exams to certain fields/subjects). About one in four parents see online exams viable if certain conditions are met, such as the aforementioned reviewed standards or the introduction of more advanced cheating prevention technologies. Only 17% of parents were of the opinion that online exams should be treated as an emergency solution or should never be applied.

It’s not all roses in the virtual classroom, though

Compromised teacher-student communication and feedback, and a lack of direct interaction and socializing between students is a major concern expressed by two out of three parents in the context of long-term online learning. 

The remaining third of the sample named the mental health risks of the increased screen time, as well as fewer responsibilities and less independence compared to on-campus living as the major disadvantages. 

However, although screen time doesn’t seem to be the most pressing issue, three out of four parents do see it as a significant health concern.

The fear of dilution is real – private tutoring might fill in the gap

The majority of parents, 56%, fear that a potential higher college attendance due to the possibilities opened up by remote learning would inevitably affect the development of students. A third of the respondents are slightly more optimistic, seeing it as a passing phase that is only going to be a problem until universities catch up with the new trends. 

On the other hand, 14% of parents view a potential increased attendance as a positive development: they expect the phenomenon to open up new revenue streams and ultimately translate into a better overall education for their children. 

At the same time, in spite of the overall optimism regarding the future of higher education in an online world, parents are painfully aware of the difficulties of matching the pre-pandemic levels of quality in education. Almost half of them would adjust their budgets long-term for private tutoring or other paid services to compensate for the shortcomings of remote learning, and a further 11% are willing to do so while colleges fully adapt to the new methods. 

Then again, private tutoring was invented long before this pandemic, remote learning (or the Internet itself), so it’s hardly surprising that 18% of families argue that it may or may not be necessary regardless of the context. A comparable proportion of the respondents reject the idea of private tutoring, saying either that it wouldn’t solve the problem or that universities should be able to guarantee the same level of education as before. Only 5% would expect tuition to be cheaper if remote learning meant there’d be a need for supplementary education.


We ran a nationwide survey asking people in the U.S. about their children’s college and academic plans and the way that the pandemic and remote learning have changed their perspectives on American education. We ran our survey and created the charts in Pollfish.

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