With remote or hybrid learning heavily adopted by New Jersey colleges and universities this school year, lawmakers want the state secretary of Higher Education to study the effectiveness of online college courses as compared to traditional, in-person instruction.

The bill sponsored by Assemblymen Thomas Giblin, D-Essex, Daniel Benson, D-Mercer, and Joe Danielsen, D-Middlesex, has already passed the lower house and is now ticketed for Senate approval.

Giblin said there would be many sides to this evaluation, but that it shouldn't commence until the end of the academic year in May, so as to observe a full cycle of learning in a post-COVID-19 world.

"It appears that it's going to be going on for a while, and that this method of hybrid learning is going to continue for a while," Giblin said. "I think we'll get a pretty good sense of the end result as far as the learning that's being passed on to the students."

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Not only would the Secretary of Higher Education be asked to weigh the prevalence and quality of online classes, but the report would also ideally measure the impacts on students, faculty, and the institutions themselves.

Colleges and universities have been financially challenged during the pandemic, according to Giblin, because of lower campus occupations meaning decreased room and board fees, as well as many students simply taking the opportunity to take a hiatus from their academic careers.

"We have to look at the fiscal side of it, then the other thing is about trying to give students a level of confidence that the courses as presented now are getting the job done," Giblin said.

The study wouldn't have to reinvent the wheel, Giblin said, but should at least provide some sort of assessment of student achievement in a virtual setting, which is a whole new ballgame for everyone.

"Sometimes students miss the camaraderie of their classmates, and working together in the classroom, learning together," Giblin said. "They feed on each other and help each other."

The ultimate goal is to increase student enrollment at institutions of higher learning — if not immediately online, then in person, whenever safe.

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