Home Current Events 2020 – The Year in Review (Part 2)
2020 – The Year in Review (Part 2)

2020 – The Year in Review (Part 2)

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Note: The following article is a summary of all of the blog articles that appeared on the Wally Boston blog from July through September of 2020. This article is part 2 of a three-part series.

July

Opportunity America, a DC think tank, issued a report that reimagines the role of community colleges. I commented about their report, its 11 recommendations, and the impact that community college funding has on some of our most underserved students.

College Pulse, funded by the Charles Koch Foundation, published a survey of 5,000 college students entitled “COVID-19 on Campus: The Future of Learning.” Among the survey findings was that the majority of students and parents believed that a semester online should not cost the same as a semester in residence attending in-person classes. I commented on the findings and added other information regarding the potential for an online fall restart for many colleges.

I wrote a reflection piece about the many family and personal events I attended over the years during the month of July, and how COVID had changed those experiences for me and others.

Inside Higher Ed contributor Dr. Joshua Kim called out the publication for allowing an op-ed to be published in which the author stated that synchronous online teaching is the best format for online learning. I concurred with Dr. Kim’s opinion and added commentary in my article.

In an article titled “Adapt Now; the Coronavirus Will Be With Us for a While,” I wrote about the announced college closures for the summer and fall as well as some of the studies indicating that the virus was likely to rebound with increased infection rates in the fall. I suggested that colleges and universities prepare for more online courses in 2020-21.

I commented on a USA Today article describing the financial impact of college football to the NCAA and the Big 5 conferences. I doubted that a full college football season could be played but noted the financial impact to schools if there was no football, and the results have been mixed.

Times Higher Education published an article about the impact of the coronavirus on the assessment of learning in colleges and universities. The reporter argued that colleges preparing for an online fall semester needed to evaluate the assessment tools used in those classes much more than they did for the quick conversion to online courses last spring. I agreed with the reporter and added that the increasing utilization of online courses and programs over the past two decades has led to the development of some very sophisticated digital assessments as well as frameworks and tools to evaluate learning outcomes.

Drs. Daniela Messina and Kelly Chinners Reiss, faculty members from the APUS School of STEM, contributed a guest blog post about a Citizen Science project on water testing that they had incorporated as a lab in a course in their Environmental Science program. The lab gives online learners the opportunity to gain hands-on experience through testing for common water quality parameters.

I recalled legendary management professor Peter Drucker’s famous 1997 quote when he stated to a Forbes magazine reporter that “Thirty years from now, the big university campuses will be relics. Universities won’t survive as a residential institution.” My article outlined that while there are still seven years remaining for Dr. Drucker’s prediction to come true, the pandemic has certainly accelerated the potential for many residential campuses to close.

Professor Scott Galloway published a methodology for forecasting colleges and universities at risk of closing and classified them as thriving, surviving, struggling, or perishing. I wrote about his methodology for rating 432 institutions.

I gave Professor Galloway an A for creativity as his index incorporated metrics such as the percentage of international students, the Google Keyword Planner number of times the school name is linked in a search, the Georgetown Center on Education and the Workforce return on investment ranking, and Niche’s student life scores. Each school was plotted across two axes — one axis representing value and the other representing vulnerability.

I followed up reporting about Professor Galloway’s system with a detailed analysis of his methodology and the metrics he incorporated. My commentary suggested some ways in which the data could be used or scrubbed to provide a more accurate ranking.

The State Higher Education Executive Officers Association (SHEEO) issued their FY2019 Report on May 5, 2020, and I reviewed and discussed the report. Among the many items noted were the fact that state funding per public university student had only recovered by two-thirds from the decline experienced in the 2008 recession and that 2019 was the eighth straight year of full-time equivalent (FTE) enrollment declines since the 2008 recession. I speculated that funding issues would resurface because of the pandemic’s impact on tax revenues, and some states might consider consolidating programs and schools.

In late July, I wrote about the experience of moving one of my daughters into her off-campus apartment in advance of her university’s reopening in August. I speculated about the impact to her and her fellow students if their campus reopened, only to close after a few weeks. I also commented about Ryan Craig’s article “The Great Unbundling of Higher Education Starts Now.” Why pay for the bundle when you’re not getting the bundle?

Brookings published an article whose authors analyzed college instructional costs and suggested that moving classes online would not lower instructional costs. I wrote that I disagreed with each of their three premises, since the data supporting the analysis was derived from 200 institutions with an average online course offering of six percent of all classes. I concluded that unbundled online education does cost less and by the end of the pandemic, students and parents will take notice.

Davidson College began tracking reopening of colleges for the fall 2020 semester, and the Chronicle of Higher Education opted to join forces and report the Davidson data rather than their own. The Chronicle was given access to data on the site and constructed some interesting analyses using the DataWrapper tool. I wrote that the tool was interesting but I was disappointed that for-profit schools were not included in the reporting, leaving out institutions representing approximately one million students. I also suggested adding a few metrics that could provide insight on why some schools reopened or closed their campuses.

August

Three researchers associated with Harvard Medical School and the Yale School of Public Health published an article outlining a simulation they developed to determine the level of testing that would be needed to keep college campuses infection rates down and remain open for the Fall 2020 semester. I noted that the simulation exposed the fallacy of some of the assumptions and policies that schools were using to justify reopening their campuses for the fall. I reported that the data indicated that frequent testing and contact tracing was necessary to contain infections, and many schools could not afford testing all students, faculty, and staff twice weekly as the simulation results suggested.

The Hechinger Report published an article detailing a financial warning ratings system for colleges and universities. The tool utilizes the methodology developed by Professor Robert Zemsky and his co-authors in their book, The College Stress Test. I wrote about the tool and compared it to the Scott Galloway risk/rating system.

The authors and researchers responsible for building the tool noted that the data included was pre-pandemic data. I noted that it was likely that some closures due to the pandemic will be announced before the data is required to be reported to the Integrated Postsecondary Education Data System (IPEDS) and other sources.

As the month progressed closer to many college and university campuses reopening, I mused whether or not there could be a silver lining in the pandemic with the increased online offerings and capabilities of using the digitization of course objectives and content to improve assessment and student learning outcomes.

August 12 was my official retirement date, and I wrote about the many accomplishments we achieved during my 18 years of service to APUS and welcomed Dr. Wade Dyke as APUS’s new president.

Educause devoted a substantial portion of the Educause Review to an article about Grand Challenges and how a digital transformation could enable colleges to improve student success, institutional financial health, institutional reputation and relevance, and external competition. I wrote about the survey that stimulated their recommendations as well as the process for implementing a digital transformation.

I decided to publish additional articles about each of the grand challenges and write about how APUS, an online university, had addressed each of those challenges through technology. I wrote about Student Success, Financial Health, Relevance and Reputation, External Competition, and the pandemic. Reading through these six articles provides an excellent historical perspective of APUS’s development and growth as a university operating wholly online.

In the spring, I interviewed Saint Francis University’s president and vice president of academic affairs about their conversion to online classes at the outset of the pandemic. I followed up that interview with another interview asking them about their plans to resume classes on campus in the fall of 2020.

September

On September 1, I published an article about why so many institutions reopened their campuses for the fall and cited their fixed operating cost, campus-centric business model. I posed the question as to how much longer will students want to pay for the socialization experience when it is more than half of the cost of a college education at a more traditional institution?

In a podcast with Dr. Bjorn Mercer, APUS program director for communication, I commented on the impact of COVID-19 on students, faculty, and staff and the ethics of reopening colleges knowing the risks of doing so.

New America released a report titled “The Comeback Story” and reported the various ways that adults return to school to complete their degrees. I wrote about the report and noted that there are institutions like APUS that include serving adult students in their mission, vision, and values. I found the outcome and recommendations of the report to be aligned with many of the practices that we incorporated at APUS.

However, I was not pleased that the quantitative analysis of the report used data from students who had some contact with a single entity, the Graduate! Network, and there was no attempt to survey students at many of the adult-serving institutions. My admonishment was to collaborate in the future and not work in a vacuum.

I penned an article about the need for policymakers, reporters, and everyone with an interest in higher education to understand the financial underpinnings of how colleges are funded and operate. I included sources that I respect and found useful.

Washington Monthly published an article written by Kevin Carey in which he argued for a different policy structure for higher education, and that the best time to implement it is now due to the pandemic. I wrote that I did not believe that his proposal would solve some of the bigger issues relating to cost of attendance and quality. I commented that his University of Everywhere concept published in his book, The End of College, was a much more brilliant idea, and that it appeared that he had capitulated to the higher education lobby with his funding recommendations.

There was no better time than the first weekend of college football returning to TV to write about the Spring 2021 return to campus plans for many colleges, and I predicted that many would not reopen in the Spring of 2021 if a vaccine was not available.

Continuing with the pandemic theme, I wrote about the radical shift in working habits created by social distancing and remote work requirements for non-essential workers during the pandemic. I wrote that many companies will continue to have a more liberal policies about working from home post-pandemic, and these changes in policies will impact commercial office space landlords and other business located around office parks and downtown areas.

Inside Higher Ed blogger Dr. Joshua Kim posed the question, “What would happen if everything remains online forever?” After acknowledging the fact that not everything can be online (construction, hospitals, etc.), he asked the rhetorical question, “will face-to-face learning ever be the same again?” He responded “no” and added that residential classes will have more digital components thanks to experiences gained during the pandemic. I agreed with Dr. Kim but based on my experiences, expressed the hope that savvy professors and administrators will see opportunities from expanded digital interaction throughout the college experience and improve courses as appropriate.

I was inspired to write an article about my 15 years of service to the McDonogh School as a board member and board committee member after donating my board files to the school’s archives in September. I thought the narrative provided an excellent example of what a school can do to adapt and advance with collaboration and interaction between the administration and the board of trustees.

“Is It Possible for a Free Market to Deliver Free College?” was my commentary about an opinion piece penned by investor Daniel Pianko and published in the Wall Street Journal. Mr. Pianko stated that the higher education industry is in the same position today as stock brokerage firms 30 to 40 years ago. He predicted that the utilization of technology to scale will enable mega-universities like Western Governors University and Southern New Hampshire University to continue to increase enrollments and eventually lower tuition revenue to zero over time (if they follow the stock brokerage model).

While I believe that some of Mr. Pianko’s examples and theories are sound, I caveated that higher education is much more regulated and subsidized by federal and state government than the brokerage industry, and subsidies may extend the lifetime of bloated infrastructures. Lastly, I noted that it is easier to offer a degree at a substantially lower price point when you are a new entrant than when you are an incumbent and at this point, SNHU and WGU are incumbents.

I compared the college football stadium attendance policies post-COVID to the NFL’s and suggested that the numbers of infections could spike because operating with no spectators (NFL) was better than operating 100,000-seat stadiums at 25 percent capacity. Surprisingly, I have not seen many articles about spiked infections linked to crowds attending the fall games.

Consulting firm McKinsey reported the results of a survey of global business executives about the post-pandemic workforce. While the number of executives indicating a willingness to allow employees to work from home had doubled from McKinsey’s previous survey, the report noted that approximately 60 percent of all jobs in the U.S. require an on-site presence.

The authors noted that many executives reported accelerating artificial intelligence and other automation projects during the pandemic and expect more changes to occur based on those initiatives. I agreed with many of McKinsey’s observations but noted that it would be important to not underestimate the economic incentives of accelerating digital initiatives that reduce labor costs and allow the organization to operate more efficiently. Acceleration initiatives could eclipse the changes predicted by McKinsey.

“COVID-19 Changes and a Crusade Against Terrible Advising” was my response to an article written by Scott Carlson for The Chronicle of Higher Education. Mr. Carlson interviewed Dr. Ned Laff and other college advisors and decided to observe the process of advising. He concluded that prescriptive advising sessions are weak, but those conducted through a mentoring focus are more successful. I commented that with on-campus advising restricted during the pandemic, now is the time to incorporate best practices and digitize advising.

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Wally Boston Dr. Wallace E. Boston was appointed President and Chief Executive Officer of American Public University System (APUS) and its parent company, American Public Education, Inc. (APEI) in July 2004. He joined APUS as its Executive Vice President and Chief Financial Officer in 2002. In July 2016, he retired as APUS president and continued as CEO of APEI. In September 2017, he was reappointed APUS president after the resignation of Dr. Karan Powell. In September 2019, Angela Selden was named CEO of APEI, succeeding Dr. Boston who will remain APUS president until his planned retirement in June 2020. Dr. Boston guided APUS through its successful initial accreditation with the Higher Learning Commission of the North Central Association in 2006 and ten-year reaccreditation in 2011. In November 2007, he led APEI to an initial public offering on the NASDAQ Exchange. During his tenure, APUS grew to over 100,000 students, 200 degree and certificate programs, and approximately 90,000 alumni. In addition to his service as a board member of APUS and APEI, Dr. Boston is a member of the Board of Advisors of the National Institute for Learning Outcomes Assessment (NILOA), a member of the Board of Overseers of the University of Pennsylvania’s Graduate School of Education, a board member of the Presidents’ Forum, and a board member of Hondros College of Nursing and Fidelis, Inc. He has authored and co-authored papers on the topic of online post-secondary student retention, and is a frequent speaker on the impact of technology on higher education. Dr. Boston is a past Treasurer of the Board of Trustees of the McDonogh School, a private K-12 school in Baltimore. In his career prior to APEI and APUS, Dr. Boston served as either CFO, COO, or CEO of Meridian Healthcare, Manor Healthcare, Neighborcare Pharmacies, and Sun Healthcare Group. Dr. Boston is a Certified Public Accountant, Certified Management Accountant, and Chartered Global Management Accountant. He earned an A.B. degree in History from Duke University, an MBA in Marketing and Accounting from Tulane University’s Freeman School of Business Administration, and a Doctorate in Higher Education Management from the University of Pennsylvania’s Graduate School of Education. In 2008, the Board of Trustees of APUS awarded him a Doctorate in Business Administration, honoris causa, and, in April 2017, also bestowed him with the title President Emeritus.

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