THE IMPACT OF COVID-19 ON HIGHER EDUCATION
MARGUERITE J. DENNIS
BULLETIN # 14 JUNE 29- JULY 3, 2020
“The world is changing. Understand what’s ahead.”
THE REIMAGINED UNIVERSITY – PRESIDENTS AND VICE CHANCELLORS
In the book, The Innovative University, authors Clayton M. Christensen and Henry
J. Eyring defined disruptive innovation: The theory of disruptive innovation asserts
that in industries from computers to cars to steel those entrants that start at the
bottom of their markets, selling simple products to less demanding customers and
then improving from that foothold, drive the prior leaders into a disruptive
demise. In higher education, the authors write, the new form of disruption will
require traditional universities to change fundamentally. Belt tightening and
incremental enhancements will not be enough.
In this same book, Gordon Gee, then president of Ohio State University wrote:
“The first instinct in responding to economic crisis is to hunker down and wait for
the storm to pass. That is the instinct, but acting on it would be a grave mistake.”
Both the book and the quote were written in 2011.
COVID-19 has disrupted every aspect of higher education, including how students
are recruited and admitted, to where and how students are taught, to the
measures needed to safely re-arrange classrooms.
For vice-chancellors and presidents’ immediate concerns center around the fall
2020 academic semester and the spring 2021 term. These concerns are shared
worldwide and certainly need to be addressed. But for the reimagined chief
executive, the concerns are longer term. Most realize that even with a vaccine,
the residuals of this pandemic will impact higher education for an indefinite
period of time. There is no going back and there can be no new normal. There can
only be the normal that each chief executive creates in the future.
Three questions for presidents and vice chancellors
What is your vision for your institution? Thinking from the end, what would your
school “look like” in the future? How will you create that future?
How has your governance style changed? In his book, On China, former U.S.
secretary of state Henry Kissinger, explained the difference between American
and Chinese foreign policy. American policy, he wrote, is like a game of chess, and
controlling the center of the board. Chinese policy is one of strategic flexibility.
Are you leading at the margins or planning with innovative leadership?
What are the opportunities, and there are many, to create both enrollment and
financial stability in the future?
The former president of Babson College, also wrote in 2011: “We must recognize
that the ground is shifting in fundamental ways for higher education. We must
reframe our approach to managing colleges and universities in the face of the
True in 2011 and even more true in 2020.
JUST THE FACTS
In a recently published survey of college presidents in the United States,
conducted by Inside Higher Education and Hanover research, 55% of the
presidents polled are planning to reduce the number of academic programs
offered at their schools. That same survey revealed the concerns of many chief
executives about the effectiveness of online teaching and their ability to ensure a
safe and comfortable physical environment for the fall semester.
Furloughs, temporary layoffs, permanent layoffs, unspecified layoffs, contract
nonrenewal, permanent reduction in hours, all define the same thing: across the
United States and probably worldwide, both academic and administrative staff
will be reduced to help meet the financial difficulties created by declining
enrollments, fewer international students enrolling in some countries, reduced
federal and state funding, decreased federal research spending and declines in
At least 50,000 higher education employees in the U.S. have already either been
terminated or furloughed.
One of the greatest concerns for higher education employees is the real threat of
de-funding of pension plans.
The latest QS research on prospective international student study plans revealed
that global interest in study abroad remains high for prospective international
students and these students are more are willing to study on-line for three to six
months before in-person classes resume.
This same survey listed New Zealand as the country with the best handling of the
virus crisis. The U.S. came in last in the survey.
Spain’s IE university organized with thirty-three countries from around the world,
an agreement to support the preservation and fostering of cross-border
knowledge through: leveraging technology, streamlining cross-border flows of
talent and global collaboration of effective health-related protocols.
“Care Counts in Crisis” College Admissions Deans Respond to COVID-19.” Twenty
admissions deans came together at the Harvard Graduate School of Education to
raise their support of mental health care for higher education students.
One entrepreneurial retailer, bowing to the inevitable, is selling a “STUDY-AT-
HOME ZONE” for college students. The kit contains everything students need to
turn rooms into the perfect college study space!
It’s now eventide. Time for me to stop writing and for you, depending on your
time zone, to stop reading.