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.
When I saw the headline for The Hechinger Report article, "Analysis: hundreds of colleges and universities show financial warning signs," I thought, “just what we need…another rating system.” To my surprise, authors Sarah Butrymowicz and Pete D’Amato did not develop a new early warning system evaluating the financial stability of colleges and universities. Instead, they utilized the methodology developed by Robert Zemsky, Susan Shaman, and Susan Campbell Baldridge and published in their recent book, The College Stress Test.
Over the past few weeks, I’ve been following The Chronicle of Higher Education’s list of schools that have made announcements about their reopening in the fall of 2020. In today’s Chronicle, they wrote that they are combining forces with Davidson College’s College Crisis Initiative (C2i).
This week, I moved one of my daughters from her off-campus apartment with an expiring lease to the apartment that she selected for this year. Next week, the same transition will occur with her sister, but at another university in another city. The plans were made and leases signed in January before anyone knew what havoc the pandemic would wreak on their campuses and college campuses nationwide.
There is no shortage of people who are forecasting the demise of some colleges and universities over the next few years. For example, in a blog article I wrote earlier this year, I reviewed The College Stress Test, a book written by Bob Zemsky, Susan Shaman, and Susan Campbell Baldridge. Based on their pre-COVID-19 analysis of institutional enrollment and financial data submitted to the Department of Education’s Integrated Post-Secondary Education Data System (IPEDS), they predicted that 10 percent of all colleges and universities are in danger of closing over the next few years.
Times Higher Education (THE) published an article about the impact of the coronavirus pandemic on the assessment of learning in colleges and universities. Steve Masters, Education 4.0 Lead at Jisc (formerly the Joint Information Systems Committee), stated, “Universities’ first challenge was to get remote working up and running and get learning out there during this ‘triage’ period, but there’s a disconnect between what we need to do for students moving forward and what’s happening now.” Masters believes that as universities prepare for the possibility of teaching online in the fall, online assessment will need to be on the agenda.
With all of the news about the college athletic conferences (Ivy League and Patriot League) cancelling the fall sports schedule or limiting it to conference opponents only (Pac-12 and Big 10), I remembered a USA Today article I read this spring that discussed the financial impact to colleges if the football season was cancelled.
When the first college campuses in the state of Washington closed because of the COVID-19 pandemic, I thought the actions to be reasonable and short term because of the proximity to Seattle, the early coronavirus hotspot in the U.S. As more college campuses closed for the remainder of the spring semester and athletic teams’ seasons were cancelled, I thought the actions to be reasonable. Those measures were designed to keep a socially active age group from spreading the coronavirus on campus and in their college towns and cities.