Hidden costs: COVID-19’s disproportionate impact on underrepresented groups in online computing education.

The disruptive effects of the COVID pandemic on vulnerable and/or minority demographic groups among 1) student populations and 2) persons employed in low wage sectors are well-established. This study examined whether disparity in the disruptive effects of the pandemic extend to adult learners employed in “bright prospect” sectors (e.g., computing and information technology). Survey results from a sample of 989 employees enrolled in an online Masters of Science in Computer Science program during the onset of COVID-19 revealed significant disparate impacts to work and learning as a function of age, race, and psycho-social factors (e.g., social support). The findings show that disparity in the effects of the pandemic transcend wage to affect the education and professional development of persons engaged in knowledge-based occupations. While results are based on the experiences of the COVID-19 pandemic, they provide observations and implications for navigating ongoing and future disruptive events. Specifically, results highlight the value of a ‘whole-person’ approach to more precisely identify the pathways by which these disruptive effects occur, particularly in the context of career development. At the institutional level, interventions to support adult learners through disruption should incorporate such an approach. Because continuous professional learning is critical for career advancement in knowledge-based sectors, the findings have implications for improving participation and mobility of underrepresented groups in computing and related fields.


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