Doug Belkin’s article in last week’s Wall Street Journal poses the big question: “Is this the end of college as we know it?” Mr. Belkin opens his article with the education paths and career paths of a married couple living in Tampa, Florida.
In an article published Monday by the New York Times, reporter Shawn Hubler writes that the resurgence of the coronavirus has forced universities to make deep cuts to close widening budget shortfalls. Some of the examples that she provides include the elimination of low-participation liberal arts degrees at liberal arts colleges, pausing admissions to Ph.D. programs in liberal arts, eliminating undergraduate programs in higher education, and furloughing employees.
When the March closure of non-essential businesses occurred, I was splitting my time between Austin, Texas and Baltimore, Maryland, and I happened to be in Maryland. Great friends of mine (Charles and Susan) owned a restaurant in Baltimore and closed it, even though restaurants were allowed to provide food through carryout and delivery. When I asked Charles why he was not providing carryout, he said that he needed to understand how his restaurant could provide carryout and keep his employees and customers safe.
I enjoy watching football, pro and college. The resumption of the NFL season three weeks ago was a welcome respite from watching reruns of last year’s games. But as college football resumed its play, I noticed one difference.
In March, the governors of many states ordered social distancing and remote work for non-essential workers. Companies with offices scrambled to enhance their technology platforms in order to accommodate so many additional people working online and remotely.
Over the weekend, I watched college and NFL football. The scenes of fans in the stands for Saturday’s televised college football games were as interesting as the scenes from the field. While it was clear that social distancing and masks had been mandated, it was also clear that more than a few did not take it seriously.
The coronavirus pandemic has impacted the finances of colleges and universities globally. With many colleges and universities in the U.S. reversing course and going online, some families are asking for tuition discounts. It’s too soon for final reports on enrollments, even as some universities report unprecedented numbers of incoming freshmen who requested an enrollment deferral (also called a gap year). There have been more than a few articles written about the financial impact of COVID-19, and a few more have attempted to rate or rank the financial risk of institutions based on publicly available data. Recently, I read an article written by a professor who argued that institutions should increase financial aid in a situation like this rather than discount tuition.
Recently, I was interviewed by Dr. Bjorn Mercer, Program Director for Communication, Philosophy, Religion, World Languages and the Arts, in the School of Arts and Humanities. In a podcast that appeared on the university blog “Online Learning Tips,” we discussed COVID-19’s health risks to students, faculty, and staff; the economic impact of COVID-19 on institutions of higher learning; and why so many colleges and universities are at great risk of closing.
Shortly after EDUCAUSE conducted its survey of higher ed presidents, provosts, Chief Information Officers (CIOs), and Chief Technology Officers (CTOs) but before it published Grajek and Brooks’ Grand Challenges, the COVID-19 pandemic hit. The pandemic caused the closure of most campuses, required students and faculty to learn and teach from home, and impacted the revenue and expense stream of most colleges and universities.
With the likelihood of most colleges and universities teaching the fall — and perhaps spring — semesters online, it’s clear that many educational institutions will improve over their improvised performances in the spring of 2020. There are many people, including me, who are writing about the financial distress due to room and board refunds and lower enrollments due to freshmen taking a gap year and international students choosing to not visit the U.S. for a potential online college experience. Based on my 18 years of experience in online higher education, I think there are opportunities for colleges and universities that survive financially.