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COVID-19 higher education roundup
Normally, discussing the future of higher education involves vague speculation on any number of issues. Maybe it’s educational models. The role of accreditation. Innovation on the fringes. Cost and value.
But now, in the middle of a global pandemic and record breaking unemployment, discussions about the future have become focused and specific.
For many campuses, the vision for the future changes every three days, and reasonably so, based on the new information coming in. Much of this work has been in scenario planning.
Some have asked why scenario planning is the central discussion now. Shouldn’t it be what administration is always thinking about?
The work in this moment is something separate from ongoing strategic work, as Dr. Commodore notes:
Although campuses are always considering strategies and projects at the institutional level and within divisions, this goes beyond Strategic Enrollment Management.
There is still a need for clarity regarding what various enrollment scenarios mean for institutional budgets and what moves might be needed based upon those scenarios. But there is another level of planning here that is unique. Even if numbers are met (or, even if they aren’t), there are levels of operational plans that must be coordinated in new ways. What will happen with residence halls? Will traditionally in-person courses be taught in person? Online? Synchronous or asynchronous? Will we need to provide physical distance within classrooms? If so, how does that impact the number of sections offered?
Campuses are facing a specific, adaptive, and uncertain crisis that impacts operations, enrollment, and funding at the same time. This combination necessitates a new level of planning for most teams.
As campuses are thinking about how to approach these challenges, the communication of options also becomes important. Lindsay Ellis highlighted a set of scenarios from the University of Central Florida (below). More than the specific answers they are contemplating, the summary and layout seem helpful in breaking down the specific issues at hand, as well as the budgetary impacts, to groups like the board, faculty, staff, and students.
It appears most campuses will wait until at least June to make certain calls regarding Fall operations, hoping to see how regional and national health expectations impact possibilities. (Some are strongly suggesting that in-person education must happen, whatever it takes.) Enrollments, tradeoffs of online functions.
Pockets of New Thinking
Although we hear the belief that one should never waste a crisis, it seems managing a crisis at this scale is much more about survival than taking the opportunity to push forward those new initiatives that have been sitting in the queue. Yes, maybe some are taking this moment to make the cuts they have felt were already needed, but it does not seem like—at least at this moment—we’re seeing this situation push to drastically new ways of thinking about how learning is structured.
For those that survive the transition, this won’t likely change that, but new tools have the potential to make their way in.
In a more significant move, Beloit College in Wisconsin is moving to module-based semesters, with 2 modules at a time and four a semester.
“Courses will be designed to respond to evolving social and environmental factors, allowing students and faculty to pursue opportunities in a range of settings—in person, in the field, and on digital platforms. With more flexibility in their days, students will be able to engage in other life-changing experiences, from internships to trips, service learning to group projects.”
The college has also added additional programs to match student needs, including an advanced mentoring program and additional career support.
It’s difficult to tell from the site whether these changes were in the works before COVID-19 was on the horizon, but the frame provides an interesting—and proactive—approach to the moment.
“We accepted the term “professionalism” as useful shorthand for positive traits like accountability, integrity, and reliability, and then we weaponized it, whether as a tool of conformity (dress appropriately, women) or as a filtering mechanism for social status (he wasn’t a “culture fit;” don’t hire him). Ultimately, we allowed the guise of professionalism to eclipse the emotional experience of being human at work.”
“When a leader’s appeal rests on a vision alone, leadership is not whole. And the limitations of such visionary leadership become painfully obvious in times of crisis, uncertainty, or radical change. Take the coronavirus pandemic. No one had anything like it in their “Vision 2020.” Crises always test visions, and most don’t survive. Because when there’s a fire in a factory, a sudden drop in revenues, a natural disaster, we don’t need a call to action. We are already motivated to move, but we often flail. What we need is a type of holding, so that we can move purposefully.”
“Using learnings gathered in China, along with World Health Organization data and the advice of medical specialists, the firm developed a new concept inside its own Amsterdam headquarters dubbed the Six Feet Office. It’s both a working laboratory and a showroom for the firm’s clients meant to call attention to how people might safely go back to work in offices.”
When you’re on mute during an audio call, you can do whatever you want. But when you’re on mute on a video call, you need to act like you’re truly engaged. Nod your head. Focus on the screen. Don’t get up and feed your dog.
Don’t sit with the window behind you. A little effort on lighting goes a very long way.
When you’re talking, spend some time looking at the camera, not the screen. You’ll appear more earnest and honest this way.