One of the industries that’s been hit from all angles due to COVID-19 is colleges and universities. Study abroad programs have been affected. Graduations have been canceled. Students can’t access labs or complete board exams. Research programs have had to stop. Hiring for grad students will be more challenging than ever. Student loans will be affected. It appears that colleges will need to limit the number of admissions for the 2021 class, which is likely to be small. Graduating high school seniors are having second thoughts about even attending college. Higher education boards will need to rely more heavily on technology during quarantining. Every one of these issues creates uncertainties of their own. Perhaps, most importantly, all of them affect the budgets of higher education institutions.
For the current, and in the coming months, boards of higher education institutions will have jam-packed agendas in dealing with the organizational consequences of COVID-19.
Making the Switch to Virtual Classes
Online classes have been on higher education board agendas in recent years because they’ve created a new breed of competition. Since the COVID-19 outbreak, ironically, all campuses have needed to make the switch to online or virtual classes out of necessity. While that sounds like a reasonable accommodation under the circumstances, it has created hardships for teachers and for students.
Some universities have also offered alternatives like doing independent study or taking a semester off.
Teachers have had to act quickly to transition coursework to an online format. Depending on the course title, sourcing materials can also be a challenge. Teachers that are also parents may be challenged by the lack of childcare or the need for the time to homeschool their own children.
From the student perspective, many students have already been taking some of their courses online, so it’s nothing new. Although, some students miss and need face-to-face interactions with a professor to do well in class.
Trying Times for International Students and Study Abroad Programs
For many colleges and universities, the pandemic broke out or became serious right around the time of spring break which means many students were leaving campuses unaware they wouldn’t be able to go back to school.
A great many students have been stuck in another country and have been unable to travel home. The situation has left many students without housing or money. Some of them have chosen not to return home out of fear of spreading the virus to aging parents.
Many students that have been able to do classes online are struggling with focus because of worry over their parents and other family members getting the virus or if family members will be alive when they can finally go home again.
How the Pandemic Is Affecting Degree Programs
Boards of higher education will need to make decisions along with management about offering extensions for degrees. What is less certain is whether student finance funding streams will also accommodate reasonable extensions for degree programs.
A large number of graduate students aren’t able to complete their research for their dissertations and are uncertain how to move forward. Students in the natural sciences, medical, dental, and engineering fields don’t have access to labs. Students that have to complete clinical hours have no clinics to go to and no patients to see. Students that are majoring in humanities and social sciences don’t have personal access to libraries, archives, or research. Students that collect data from K-12 programs are waiting in the wings for schools to reopen.
The whole premise of the research institution model depends on graduate students to help with research and teach classes. For now, all that has come to a standstill.
Even if graduate students can find a way to graduate, many of the feeder corporations have a stoppage on hiring, so good-paying jobs may be scarce for the foreseeable future.
The Impact on Student Loans
The high cost of higher education has already been an issue and it’s about to get worse. The CARES Act will help with a great deal of existing loan debt, but repayment terms are more uncertain than ever. Some college boards have decided that they will refund room and board fees, but not tuition.
Graduations Will Lack Pomp and Circumstance
If they occur at all, graduations may lack much of the customary pomp and circumstance. Chairs may be spaced further apart. Fewer audience members may be allowed to witness the event. The handshake on the podium may be replaced by an elbow bump. Graduation parties are likely to be small and quaint.
Graduation is a rite of passage for hard-working students. It commemorates, not only academic achievement—it also signifies an important period of their lives. A graduation ceremony is also an important milestone for parents and a payoff for their diligence in raising good and productive adults.
Some of the more optimistic colleges are anticipating being able to hold graduation ceremonies in May. Others are postponing the event, hosting them in a virtual format, or canceling them altogether.
Fall Enrollment Will Likely Drop Substantially
The many changes will likely have a huge impact on fall enrollment. Many Class of 2020 students won’t yet be finished with their classes and will likely be given first chance at classes.
In light of the uncertainty around college and the workforce, large numbers of high school students are changing their minds about going to college at all. According to a recent national survey by the Art & Science Group, one in six high school seniors that chose to go to a four-year college full time before the pandemic occurred, have changed their minds about college. Some students are worried about not being able to get into their first-choice school. Others have decided to only enroll at a part-time bachelor’s program, attend community college, or work full time. Still others will take a year off.
For college and university boards, it will be a major challenge to budget responsibly because there are so many moving parts and so many things that will have a major bearing on the budget. The biggest thing related to the budget and every other issue facing boards of higher education learning is the vast amount of uncertainty in how to make decisions during these critical and uncertain times.