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The year that got away
A lot has been said about the correlation between crisis and opportunity. Sometimes it’s pure wisdom, but other times its misinterpretation, mistranslation, and misappropriation of optimism.
History is the only evidence we have to substantiate the idea that crisis breeds opportunities. Whether that ever turns out to be true depends on a complex mix of factors, including agility to change.
Here is the face of higher education in 2020.
Long before the pandemic, the price of higher education was already a brewing catastrophe.
The crisis has unfolded gradually through the years, propelled by budget cuts and institution-based program changes designed to generate high revenue.
Today, many higher learning institutions depend on privately sponsored scholarships to sustain accessibility. Philanthropic sources of funds now make up for a larger percentage of budgets and there is no sign of slowing.
The pandemic’s financial impact
Covid-19 and response strategies by colleges and universities have left a gaping hole in their finance.
The consequences might be long term as a large number of these institutions were already facing financial hiccups before the pandemic.
The coronavirus has been devastating on this front. Not a single institution of higher learning has been immune to operational, market, and budgetary challenges.
With the decline in enrollment rates and the declined perceived value, some may not weather the storm in the end.
The accessibility effect
Only a handful of students are ready to return to school even as businesses gradually reopen. Some advanced institutions have now failed in their missions to provide equitable access to education.
And unfortunately, reopening strategies don’t wholly reflect the changes in all students’ financial and psychological well-being.
Some students simply have had to pull back from their classes, and others have dropped out. One can expect that there’ll be significantly more students deferring courses.
This could substantially influence enrollment rates for new students.
A resistance to change
For any successful reopening, innovative strategies are needed to respond to the changes caused by the pandemic. Change is required in the way information is delivered.
The inability to rapidly roll out required improvements will worsen the financial and accessibility challenges if it does not come about swiftly.
Universities recognized the requirements for a significant number of the changes currently needed long before the pandemic hit. Yet, for various reasons, they have not been executed.
Schools and colleges are famously resistant to change.
A strict timeline for program modifications must be accelerated and adhered to. Student welfare support and accommodations for remote learning may need to be increased and strengthened.
Programs that cannot directly contribute to students’ success and the attainment of an institution’s mission must be redesigned.
Colleges must adopt new teaching methods and make new decisions to try new operational modalities and new administrative strategies.
Many people rightfully fear that the pandemic has intensified existing disparities among undergrads. At the start of fall, NAACP expressed concern about the pandemic’s impact on black students’ housing availability.
Experts convey that black students are the hardest-hit by student debt resulting from the pandemic. Educators believe that future college enrollees will mostly favor affluent students.
As schools confront extra-budgetary pressures, many will have to let go of staff. This has started already and a reduction in the academic workforce has been termed as unavoidable by many institutions.
The layoffs are driven by the program needs and spending limits of individual faculties.
Schools that were dealing with financial challenges before the pandemic are significantly more likely to lay off employees as the new year progresses.
Experts have predicted that as much as half of U.S. schools and colleges would close, to some extent, because of dropping enlistment numbers in light of technological disruption and an aging population.
In the face of the pandemic, the pattern of schools shutting down has been quickened. Without critical state or government mediation, a lot of universities are feeling pressure due to financial stress.
What could have been
2020 could have been a national gap year for all students in higher education.
That would have been an opportunity to rest, plan a fresh and reopen in a way that assures equality, accessibility and affordability in higher learning. But it wasn’t.
As soon as the idea was brought up, it got quickly dismissed by various bodies. Now, even as these same institutions reopen, attendance and enrollment are at historically low levels.
Deferments are at an all-time high
Soon, everyone will likely ask themselves whether the rush was worth it.
What if the time spent in the opening, closing, and reopening schools in 2020 was spent building capacity and connecting students with internship and volunteering opportunities?
A national gap year would’ve helped advance both career and educational goals while ensuring that the institutions had time to implement the changes needed internally.
Universities could have provided online course progression while keeping the fees far lower than the present learning expenses. This could have solved the current challenges to accessibility and equality in higher learning.
The government should have stepped by sponsoring mandatory service learning for students in their communities. 2020 could have been a meaningful and accountable year on the educational calendar.
In time, educational leaders will be tested to identify the opportunities created by the pandemic.
They will be also tested to put forth the defenses, marshal endeavors, divert assets, and manage the execution of noteworthy changes in the coming year.
Educational Institutions will have to develop disaster resilience while responding with agility to the needs of students, staff, and communities.
Change is here, and there is no escaping it.
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