Home Online Education Access and Affordability Pandemic to Permanent – Another Prognostication of Higher Ed Changes Accelerated Due to the Pandemic
Pandemic to Permanent – Another Prognostication of Higher Ed Changes Accelerated Due to the Pandemic

Pandemic to Permanent – Another Prognostication of Higher Ed Changes Accelerated Due to the Pandemic


May 1 was the date that many colleges required accepted applicants to indicate their commitment to attend for the coming 2021-22 school year. It must have also been the date for predictions on higher ed trends and changes.

Following close on the heels of the Higher Ed Dive opinion piece written by Denison University President Adam Weinberg is a Forbes article penned by Brandon Busteed, Chief Partnership Officer and Global Head Learn-Work Innovation at Kaplan.

Mr. Busteed opens his article by bracketing the potential changes to higher education. On one end are those who insist that colleges and universities will return to their pre-pandemic normal in the next year or two. On the other end are those who predict a mass extinction of colleges and universities.

Mr. Busteed does not believe either of the previous two forecasts will become reality. Instead, he sees an in-between scenario influenced by 11 “clear and lasting changes to higher education as a result of the pandemic.” These changes are:

  1. The test-optional movement will become permanent.
  2. Higher education institutions will be held accountable to diversity, equity, and inclusion metrics.
  3. While students desire a return to in-person learning, the majority want to continue to have the option to take classes online. This will force colleges to offer multiple learning options.
  4. Recording all lectures for student review later will become a norm.
  5. Demand for work-at-home options will continue from faculty and staff.
  6. Based on 3, 4, and 5, colleges will emphasize building their virtual infrastructure.
  7. Virtual internships and jobs are here to stay and will grow in prevalence.
  8. Employers will drive a growing movement toward non-degree education and non-traditional degrees. This will weaken the market for residential 4-year degrees.
  9. The traditional academic calendar is no more.
  10. Universities will compete to launch lower-cost online degrees to serve value-oriented prospective students.
  11. Elite colleges and universities are no longer role models. The new role models are public flagships and up-and-comer privates that innovate, find ways to freeze or lower costs and dedicate themselves to being student- and employer-centric.

None of these changes are surprising, nor are they new to higher ed. If anything, these changes are new to some of the more traditional colleges and universities. Reviewing them in order:

  1. Non-selective colleges and universities have not required SAT and ACT scores for years.
  2. The Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion movement has been more notable in admissions than hiring. Expect more focus on DEI initiatives in hiring.
  3. The notable success of institutions like Southern New Hampshire University, Arizona State University, Grand Canyon University, and the University of Massachusetts that offered online options in addition to on-ground options bears out what many traditional institutions chose to ignore. The popularity of online programs with non-traditional students—who many institutions are choosing to target as replacements for the declining enrollment of traditional students—will demand increased online options for many schools. Funding these options could be problematic in a highly competitive environment.
  4. Recording lectures will happen if universities can afford to fund them. Otherwise, asynchronous online classes will continue to be a popular option for online-only classes.
  5. Providing work-at-home options to some staff has proven to work. The question will be how many traditional institutions will be willing to allow faculty to work at home. I doubt high-tuition institutions will be willing to consider this, particularly since students and their parents will question the value of paying for online classes at a premium price.
  6. I wrote about Educause’s Grand Challenges for Higher Ed Transformation in several blog posts last August (plus four more). As I wrote, building a virtual infrastructure is expensive and takes more time than many envision, particularly if physical records and systems are integrated with online systems and processes. While this may happen, I predict few rapid transformations. The difficulty of accomplishing this is likely why Purdue University purchased Kaplan University and the University of Arizona purchased Ashford University.
  7. While virtual internships may be here to stay, I happen to believe that those of substance will return to in-person internships as soon as practical.
  8. Most of the shorter-term skillsets driving employers to suspend degree requirements relate to technical skills and knowledge which are high in demand and short in supply. Many of the coding academies enroll college graduates who have majored in degrees that are not in demand. I’m not sure that this prediction will be widespread or apply to all jobs. Degrees have been an excellent sorting mechanism in the past.
  9. It’s about time that the traditional academic calendar ended. My institution, APUS, ended it in 2000 when we began offering classes every other month. By 2002, we were offering semester starts on the first Monday of every month, a practice that has worked for our majority of working-adult students.
  10. I agree that there will be a price war, particularly if students and their parents are opting for online education choices.
  11. It’s about time that we stop comparing our colleges and universities to elite colleges and universities. I made that argument in several blog posts that argued that Ivy League and elite colleges should enroll a million or more students. One of these was proposed by Mr. Busteed.

When I began my tenure at APUS, a wholly online university, online education was scoffed at by the critics. Over the years, its quality and acceptance has become more recognized. The pandemic has definitely accelerated changes toward a broader acceptance of online education, this time by faculty who were previously skeptics.

I agree with Mr. Busteed that it’s unlikely that either of the extreme ends of the change prognostications will come true. However, I lean toward the side with more closures than the side with no closures. The jig is up for institutions that cannot justify a return on a student’s educational investment. Unfortunately, that classification belongs to many institutions that require students to utilize large loans to finance their education. For some, change will be steady. For others, it may be like a roller coaster.

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 September 2019, Dr. Boston retired as CEO of APEI and retired as APUS President in August 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. For four years from 2009 through 2012, APEI was ranked in Forbes' Top 10 list of America's Best Small Public Companies. During his tenure as president, APUS grew to over 85,000 students, 200 degree and certificate programs, and approximately 100,000 alumni. While serving as APEI CEO and APUS President, Dr. Boston was a board member of APEI, APUS, Hondros College of Nursing, and Fidelis, Inc. Dr. Boston continues to serve as a member of the Board of Advisors of the National Institute for Learning Outcomes Assessment (NILOA) and as a member and chair of the board of New Horizons Worldwide. 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. In August 2020, the Board of Trustees of APUS appointed him Trustee Emeritus. In November 2020, the Board of Trustees announced that the APUS School of Business would be renamed the Dr. Wallace E Boston School of Business in recognition of Dr. Boston's service to the university. Dr. Boston lives with his family in Austin, Texas.


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