The COVID-19 coronavirus pandemic is devastating lives, livelihoods, and personal, business, and government finances around the world. Unfortunately the American higher education market hasn’t escaped this economic destruction either. College and Universities are facing a perfect storm of reduced enrollments, reduced endowments, and increased expenses all at the same time.
No longer Recession Proof
Higher education typically has been considered a “recession proof “ industry, with students going to school regardless of economic conditions and in fact enrolling in higher numbers during recessions in order to ride out bad job markets and improve their skills. During the 1918 Spanish Flu Pandemic, American colleges and universities responded with quarantines and masks much like today. However, the COVID-19 pandemic is unprecedented in modern history forcing colleges and universities to suspend classes while faculty and students fear catching the virus on campus. This in turn is leading to lower tuition and dormitory revenues, and increased costs due to more stringent cleaning, more personal protective equipment for faculty, staff, and students, increased healthcare screening and staff, and lower capacity due to social distancing.
In addition to lower revenues, public colleges also are facing the potential of reduced state funding due to decreasing state tax revenues. Loss of lucrative international students due to travel restrictions and a hostile domestic political environment further undermines the school’s finances. This would force schools to increase tuition and student debt would soon follow. (So now might be a good time to question a liberal arts degree and possibly pursue a more marketable / lucrative degree). Private colleges, even those with decent endowments, are also facing financing pressures due to declining enrollment and there is the potential that some colleges might close.
Layoffs and Cost Cutting
Schools are also responding by laying off faculty and staff, including the University of Akron, the University of Texas at San Antonio, and Ohio University. They are also putting construction projects on hold, and freezing hire and raises. These are drastic measures and if the fall semester suffers from 15% or more enrollment drops as experts predict, then many schools will not survive in their current form and might end up closing or becoming a satellite campus.
America will get through the COVID-19 coronavirus pandemic, but the future of American Higher Education will look very different than it does today.
The fall 2020 semester is going to be unlike any that has happened in modern history. With the covid 19 pandemic surging again, it’s now questionable whether or not classes will be held on campus. It’s looking increasingly likely that next year will be conducted through either a hybrid model of on campus and remote learning, or remote learning only.
Freshman or Upperclassman
As a student, these are unsettling times but know that you are not alone. Everyone is in the same boat. If you are an incoming freshman, you are actually in a good position since you have more options. With all of the uncertainty, it might make sense to take a gap year and let this blow over and start your college experience in the fall of 2021. If you are an upperclassmen, then a gap year really isn’t an option and your choices are whether or not to continue your education in person, remotely, or a hybrid model. It’s probably not a good idea to drop out of school because of the pandemic, as that could have a lifelong effect on your career and earnings.
Depending on your school, in class learning might not even be an option at all. For example, the entire California State University system will not be holding in class learning in the fall 2020. Other schools such as the University of California system will offer limited in class learning. If your school does offer in class learning as an option, there are other factors to consider before choosing this option. Even though your school might allow it, some professors are revolting against teaching in person classes. If there is a local outbreak on your campus in the fall, then classes might quickly have to transition online. On top of all that, any in class experience will have to conform to all the latest CDC guidelines including masks, social distancing, hand washing etc. So while there are actions you can take to prevent getting sick, even if you are allowed to go to live classes it will be a very different and tenuous situation.
Remote and Hybrid
Remote and Hybrid learning looks like the most likely learning models this year, and with remote learning although it is far from perfect at least you don’t have to worry about your class being cancelled. If you can choose a hybrid model with some in person learning and some remote learning, this seems like a good option as it reduces the chance of encountering or spreading the virus, and also is more flexible in case the in class learning has to be shut down.
The bottom line is it’s going to be a difficult year for everyone, just remember this will pass at some point and make smart decisions for your future and in consideration of your community so that you can continue your education while helping to minimize the spread of covid 19.