THE IMPACT OF COVID-19 ON HIGHER EDUCATION
MARGUERITE J. DENNIS
BULLETIN # 16 July 13 – 17, 2020
“It’s only when the tide goes out, that you learn who’s been swimming naked.”
Author’s note: The next “issue” of the bulletin will be sent to you on August 7,
2020. I will be spending the next two weeks writing a paper: The Reimagined
University: Suggestions for college and university administrators.
Given the cornucopia of bad news over the past five months, it’s refreshing to
acknowledge when something goes right. In last week’s bulletin I wrote about the
proposed U.S. federal rules prohibiting international students to legally enroll in
fall classes if the classes were only taught on-line. For seven days we all chased
after this shiny object and planned for the worst. And then on July 15th, U.S.
District Judge Allison Burroughs wrote:
“I have been informed by the parties that they have come to a resolution. The
government has agreed to rescind the July 6, 2020 policy directive.”
The voices of 200 American colleges and universities in 17 states prevailed.
THE REIMAGINED STUDENT
It’s too early for anyone to define the reimagined student but it’s not too early to
suggest a few attributes of the post COVID-19 college and university student.
The Reimagined Student:
Will enroll in schools with well-established health protocols
Will enroll in schools that have a proven track record of putting students first
Will enroll in schools closer to home
Will enroll in schools that offer year-long classes
Will enroll in schools that offer a reasonable schedule of in-person and online
Will enroll in schools that can map out a reasonable schedule for degree
completion at the time of acceptance and deposit
Will enroll in schools that assign academic and financial aid advisors at the time of
acceptance and deposit
Will enroll in schools that provide accepted students with the approximate cost of
Will enroll in schools with robust career counseling and internship programs and
Will enroll in schools that assign alumni mentors to accepted and deposited
JUST THE FACTS
Rice University in Houston, Texas is building nine large outdoor classrooms. The
university has purchased five open-sided circus tents and another four semi-
permanent structures and will offer specific classes outdoors during the fall
Fairfield University in Connecticut offered 1,150 accepted incoming students the
opportunity to take an online summer class. As of July 6 th , 887 incoming students
enrolled in the class. Perhaps “summer melt” will not be a big issue for Fairfield?
Bentley University in Massachusetts is offering a free summer class as part of a
flexible Trimester Program that will begin in the fall. Perhaps Bentley has already
acknowledged that the previous academic calendar is no longer relevant?
FUTURE ENROLLMENT OF CHINESE STUDENTS
The latest issue of Foreign Affairs magazine focuses on the reshaping of the global
order with China taking the lead, including being the world’s leader in education
Professor Youmin Xi, executive president of Xi’an Jiaotong-Liverpool University,
speaking at the Going Global Conference said:
“In the face of crisis and new situations, individuals and organizations are
presented with valuable opportunities to boldly innovate and plan for future
Prior to COVID-19 more than 600,000 Chinese students studied worldwide. Many
colleges and universities, including schools in the U.S., UK, Australia and Canada,
depended on the revenue from these students to meet their enrollment and fiscal
But this prior trend of Chinese students may change. Geopolitical disputes with
the U.S., UK, Australia, and Canada, may impact the number of Chinese students
studying in those countries in the future.
U.S.-China relations, in particular, are in free fall and Richard Haas, president of
the Council on Foreign Relations, predicts that the situation will worsen the in the
months to come.
We are naïve to think that even after the virus is contained, Chinese students will
enroll in the same numbers as before. This cohort of students simply has too
many options. Of course top tier schools will continue to be of interest to Chinese
students and parents but the virus has left Chinese families economically insecure
and politically wary of being educated in western countries.
Chinese student mobility has, in my opinion, moved from the Atlantic to the
“It’s 2022. What Does Life Look Like?” David Leonhardt, in his sagacious New York
Times article, (July 12,2020), predicts the long-term, negative impact of the virus
on several industries, including retail, publishing, restaurants, department stores,
cruise ships, theme parks, and colleges and universities. Any industry, the author
writes, that depends on close human contact is at risk, and that includes colleges
But let’s end on a positive note. Emily Oster, a Brown University economist, writes
in this same article: “A downturn is an opportunity to revisit inefficiencies.”
I think it is also a good time to reimagine and plan for what your school will “look
like” in the future.