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Assembly Passes Giblin, Benson & Downey Bill to Create Task Force to Study Remote Learning in Higher Education During COVID-19 Pandemic

On March 16, 2020, in-person instruction at colleges and universities was suspended in response to the emergence of COVID-19 in New Jersey. Classes shifted to remote and online formats, and many higher education students have yet to return to a traditional classroom setting.

With the goal to review how remote learning was implemented in New Jersey colleges during the pandemic and examine the impact on students, staff and school communities, the Assembly passed legislation sponsored by Assembly Democrats Thomas Giblin, Daniel Benson and Joann Downey on Thursday, 72-0-0.

“Before the public health emergency, colleges and universities were already beginning to integrate remote and hybrid learning models into their curriculums. The total shift to online instruction for all students, however, was an unprecedented challenge for students and staff alike last March,” said Giblin (D-Essex, Passaic). “With New Jersey’s pandemic recovery on the horizon, it’s time we take stock of the implementation and quality of remote learning in our colleges over this past year so we may plan our path forward.”

“In our K-12 schools, the pandemic has laid bare the learning gap faced by many students and their families as a result of remote learning.  While remote learning is not new to the higher education space, it’s not clear what the impact of fully remote learning has been on higher education students, or what the best practices are,” said Benson (D-Mercer, Middlesex). “The work of this task force will help us understand how online instruction affected students’ overall educational experiences in a school year unlike any other.”

“We must learn more about how exactly the shift to online learning impacted all those implementing and partaking in higher education courses during the pandemic last year,” said Assemblywoman Downey (D-Monmouth). “Questions about how this shift affected the cost and quality of classes, whether students were able to access the technology they needed, how many students completed their semester, and more all need answers. This task force will seek those answers so we can address these matters if necessary.”

The bill (A-4836) would establish a 17-member task force to examine the quality, efficacy, costs and educational outcomes of online courses offered by public and independent institutions of higher education, as well as degree-granting proprietary institutions, during the COVID-19 pandemic.

The group would use its findings to make recommendations for improvements of online courses.

The task force would study:

  • How institutions shifted to online learning at the start of the pandemic, and methods taken later to resume in-person instruction;
  • Each institution’s strategy for delivering education, whether via online, in-person or hybrid offerings;
  • A description of technology used for online learning;
  • The costs borne by institutions and students in the shift to online learning;
  • The policies of institutions to ensure students had access to technology and other resources needed for remote learning;
  • The impact of online instruction on student enrollment and cost of attendance;
  • The traditional cost of offering an online course at each institution compared to the cost of offering an in-person course, and how the COVID-19 pandemic affected it;
  • The perceptions of students, faculty, and staff of the quality and value of online courses as compared to courses provided in person;
  • A comparison of the average completion rate and grade for students enrolled in online courses during the COVID-19 pandemic and the average completion rates and grades for those courses in the prior academic year, and;
  • The policies and procedures institutions have in place to ensure that institutional, technological and faculty support are provided to students enrolled in online courses to ensure a high-quality educational experience.

The measure now heads to the Senate.