Colleges and universities have opened for on-campus instruction and despite the protocols, guidelines, honor codes, and plexiglass, college-related COVID cases have exploded. On September 3, the NY Times published a map showing there were 51,000 COVID cases across 1,020 institutions—and this number is increasing.
It is clear what happens when schools try and operate along the “normal” business model.
The first step is understanding there will be no return to the way things were.
Terri E. Givens, CEO of the Center of Higher Education Leadership and a former Provost, said:
“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. But what this will look like is going to be hugely dependent on resources. Right now, everything is in emergency mode.”
You may be in emergency mode but to survive you will have to focus on a future, a future that will include COVID.
As Matt Alex of Beyond Academics says:
“Where the status quo ends, opportunities begin.”
What are those opportunities?
Understand who you are as an institution. How would you define your institution if you didn’t include the on-campus experience? How do you quickly and clearly define the value you provide to your students? What would your recruiting collateral look like if you didn’t include pictures of the leafy quad, the attractive college town, and the comfortable dorms? How would you define what makes you different from all the other schools that are moving their courses online at the same time you are?
Joel Mathew, co-founder of Beyond Academics and Leader of Digital Enrollment Strategy, says the spike he has seen in college advertising is significant. But most of the ads he’s surveyed are focused on a degree a potential student can earn, not on the value to the student. He said:
“Many Higher Ed ads you see are all generally the same. They are more than likely a list of benefits or attributes that scream ‘look at us’ when they should be more student-centric and focus on the ‘why’ of the end consumer.”
Everyone is offering online degrees. If you can define the value you deliver to your students, you will set yourself apart from the noise of the pack.
Focus on the student.
Now is a good time to look at your processes and technology and ask “Who are these processes serving: the administrator or the student?” For the last 20 plus years, as schools become more technology-enabled, processes have been designed either with software in mind or making administrative processes easier. Now, is the time to redesign those processes to be student-centric.
Increase learning effectiveness.
COVID presents a chance to remake how we deliver education. In the rush this spring to move classes online, lectures were recorded, and power points were converted to PDF and put online. But now schools must plan for remote teaching for the long haul and the course catalog must be redesigned to be effective in a remote/high-flex format. This presents an opportunity to move to more effective teaching approaches like a flipped classroom. With better course delivery, better learning experience, and better learning outcomes, students will see the value your school delivers for their tuition dollars.
No matter what—understand your cost and revenue models.
Many institutions can’t define the costs and margins of their basic product—the course offering. What other industry can say that? State budgets are being drastically cut. State allocations to education were just getting close to pre-2008 levels. But the cuts that are coming will erase all that. Private schools are meeting with resistance to their tuition rates.
As revenue shrinks, it is time to deeply understand and manage your costs. What are the elements of your cost of instruction? Is your school running multiple versions of the same software? Are there new revenue sources? Can you use your online learning capabilities to expand your geographic reach? Once you understand the value that you deliver that is separate from the on-campus experience are their prospects that you can target that you’ve missed in the past?
COVID has changed how higher education must operate, and it will never go back to the way it was at the start of 2020. We’ve already seen what happens when schools try the old ways in this new world. Things break. Things fall apart. To survive, institutions will have to operate in a new way in the new world.