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.”
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.
On July 31, three researchers associated with the Yale School of Public Health and Harvard Medical School published an article in the JAMA Network Open (the Open Journal of the American Medical Association). This article described a study outlining a simulation the Yale and Harvard researchers developed to determine what would be needed in order to operate a college campus safely this fall.
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).
In an article published by Brookings, authors Steven Hemelt and Kevin Stange report that their analysis suggests that moving classes online is unlikely to reduce instructional costs. According to the authors (who are associate professors of public policy at UNC-Chapel Hill and the University of Michigan, respectively), evidence on the relationship between online coursework and costs is sparse, and the evidence on how online instruction differs by program and field is largely nonexistent.
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.