Publisher's note: The author of this post is Mitch Kokai for the John Locke Foundation.
UNC System Senior Vice President Andrew Kelly
considers the uncertain future of higher education in a new report
for the American Enterprise Institute (co-authored with Rooney Columbus). They argue colleges must prepare for major changes.
- COVID-19 presents unique obstacles for colleges and universities. It constrains their ability to offer core services-educational and otherwise-while ensuring the safety of students, faculty, staff, and surrounding communities. These impediments in turn seriously threaten their financial health. The looming fiscal fall-out has already prompted colleges to reduce staff, cut salaries, and shutter academic programs and depart-ments. Most colleges have announced plans for an in-person reopening this fall, although they will more likely offer mixtures of in-person and online instruc-tion. Leaders are also grappling with the logistics of implementing extensive public health measures and preparing contingency plans for another virtual term in the event of viral recurrence. More than a few other institutions will simply remain online. ...
- ... We expect the pandemic to negatively affect the financial health of postsecondary education in the years ahead. Some colleges will likely close for good, especially if they cannot reopen their campuses for face-to-face instruction in the fall. In addition, online learning will become more prevalent across higher education out of necessity, but we doubt it will emerge as the preferred mode of instruction among the majority of students. Most students still strongly prefer face-to-face instruction, and the spring's hast-ily assembled "emergency remote instruction" could inspire more detractors than converts. To improve on the education offered in the spring, colleges will need to invest in robust academic and student supports that can be delivered virtually. Forward-thinkinginstitutions will recognize that the pandemic has accelerated preexisting demographic and financial challenges to their model and will translate neces-sary, short-term modifications in course delivery, stu-dent services, academic calendars, and pricing and fee structures into lasting reforms.