If a university is simply adjusting to the COVID-19 pandemic rather than planning long-term changes, it’s already doing something wrong.
Just look at the work from home phenomenon in the business world for why this is the case. With work from home becoming the only option for most companies, several like Twitter and Square have already decided that they’re going to implement strategies to have employees work from home permanently. They’ve realized it lets their employees have more time and helps them save on capital expenditures to accommodate hundreds of employees.
The responses of several businesses are permanent or at least leading to indefinite changes, not just simple shortcuts to adapt to the current market. Many realize that some things won’t ever be the same – that just as we measure world events as pre- and post-9/11, we’ll be measuring modern times and noting the changes taking place by if something was pre- or post-COVID-19.
So far, it seems universities have not taken the hint. We’re inundated with problems they’re facing just with adapting to the virtual-based climate, which already shows it’s not a good sign when the new market of college students – and perhaps even displaced workers in search of better careers – will be expecting something different. They are the new entry level workers of this post-COVID business world, and it’s a world full of saturated alternatives to higher education that may become more prominent.
Rick Seltzer at Inside Higher Ed reported several higher education leaders agree that universities “must find time to prepare their institutions for an unsettled future that looks very different from the old status quo.”
His interview with Terri E. Givens, CEO of the Center for Higher Education Leadership, is most telling: “If there is any leader in the country who thinks it is going to go back to where it was a year ago, they are lying to themselves.”
The main takeaway from the article is to be long-term focused. That’s certainly more difficult than short-term adjustments because now staff and faculty have to try to predict just how the market will change. Will large swaths of college students prefer online education? Will they seek alternative credentials in place of the bachelor’s degree? And are employers going to follow?
I certainly don’t know what every single university should specifically do. But I do know that any administration thinking short-term is bound to make their university’s life span even shorter.