An Inside Higher Ed blogger, Dr. Josh Kim, recently penned an article posing the question, “What if everything stays online forever?” Dr. Kim acknowledges that not everything is online now, and certain functions like construction, maintenance, and hospital services have to remain face-to-face.
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.
Paraphrasing from political strategist James Carville’s famous line, “It’s the economy, stupid!”, I thought it would be appropriate to explain the reason that a significant number of traditional colleges and universities announced plans to return to campus this fall, instead of continuing with online courses for at least another semester or two.
In April, I published a two-part interview with Father Malachi Van Tassell, T.O.R., President of Saint Francis University, and Dr. Karan Powell, Vice President of Academic Affairs at Saint Francis University. Like many colleges and universities, Saint Francis had cancelled its on-campus classes and converted to online classes for the rest of the semester (read Part I and Part II of the series). Dr. Powell and I spoke recently, and I discovered that Saint Francis elected to return to on-campus courses this semester. I asked her if she and Father Malachi would be willing to update me regarding their preparations for the fall.
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.
Of the four Grand Challenges to higher education, financial health is foremost among the minds of many traditional higher education institutions, particularly in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic. Recently published articles and books call attention to the warning signs and at-risk metrics for traditional institutions that are financially troubled. For example, I’ve written about Robert Zemsky’s College Stress Test, Scott Galloway’s Value-to-Cost ratio and Vulnerability Score, and the Hechinger Report’s Financial Fitness Tracker.
In the latest issue of the Educause Review, Educause researchers Susan Grajek and D. Christopher Brooks write that Grand Challenges should be issued to encourage institutions to solve some of the biggest issues in higher education and that a digital transformation could be the best way to solve those challenges. For the uninitiated, a Grand Challenge “describes desired outcomes to problems that are extremely difficult (but not impossible) to solve and that are widespread, if not global, in scope.”