MARYLAND (WDVM) — What was originally meant to be an extra two weeks of spring break has evolved into a new way of life for students across Maryland. As we enter the third year handling the COVID-19 pandemic, some officials are looking back on the way our government handled the fallout over the past years, especially when it comes to the impacts on education.

“Education will never go back to how it was pre-COVID,” said Maryland Sen. Ben Cardin. “It will be much more virtual and hybrid education.”

While Cardin and the educational leaders discussed the ways the virus has put many Marylanders in a worse position than they were in pre-COVID, the participants also acknowledged that the pandemic highlighted a lot of issues that were already there.

“Quite frankly, higher education before COVID-19 was out of reach for too many families and today it’s out of reach for too many families. So we still need to work on that,” said Cardin.

And according to the participants, the pandemic pushed many potential students away from college entirely.

“There’s some research that’s coming out right now indicating that the number one competitor for most colleges last year was no college,” said Andrea Chapdelaine, president of Hood College.

In the past, Cardin lobbied for two-to-four years of free college to incentivize students to get a higher education, especially in the wake of the pandemic. But not all of the participants thought this was a fair and practical suggestion.

“I cannot imagine creating a federal entitlement program for the top 10% of wage earners in the country,” said Dr. Jim Klauber, president of Hagerstown Community College.

Sen. Cardin also advocated for more resources for first-generation students and single parents, who often have been left behind by our education system.