Evaluate Post‐COVID‐19 Threats to Higher Education

November 18, 2020

The following article is from Wiley Online Library.

No one knows, with certainty, what colleges and universities will “look like” after the chaos and confusion of COVID‐19 are no longer a part of our daily lives.

One thing is certain: COVID‐19 shone a bright light on the inefficiencies in higher education. In the 2011 book The Innovative University, Paul LeBlanc, the President of Southern New Hampshire University, wrote: “The model is broken and yet so much that we associate with a college education, that a degree requires four years of study and 120 earned credits, that undergraduate life is also about fraternities and athletic teams and dorm life, and that a faculty member with a terminal degree, usually a Ph.D., is inherently the best educator, is becoming unsustainable.”

We can attest to the validity of President LeBlanc's words by examining what has occurred on many college campuses in the fall of 2020. Several schools opened in August only to have to readjust their teaching schedules because some students failed to follow health protocols.

Consider some of the threats to the traditional way students have been educated in the past:

➤ An estimated 28 million Americans, or one in five, have canceled their educational plans for the coming year, according to a survey conducted by Strada Education Network.

➤ More than 500 colleges and universities in the United States are showing signs of financial stress, the Hechinger Report revealed in August 2020.

➤ College enrollment in the United States decreased to 18 million students in 2018–19 from a peak of 20 million in 2011.

➤ Perhaps the most profound change brought about by the pandemic is the reported change in students’ attitudes about obtaining the traditional four‐year degree. An ECMC Group survey of 2,200 teenagers, ages 14–18, revealed that 50% of those polled were open to getting something other than a four‐year degree. And 70% want to chart their own educational path.

➤ More than three‐quarters of worldwide learners believe education will be fundamentally changed by the pandemic, according to a recent report.

➤ Of the 77,000 people surveyed by Pearson in its Global Learner Survey, 77% believe a portion of future higher education students will attend classes online.

➤ Among adults working from home surveyed by edX, 56% want to pursue higher education.

Enter the disruptors, including:

➤ The Google Career Certificates Program offers a selection of professional courses to assist job seekers with acquiring the fundamental skills needed for in‐demand jobs.

➤ General Assembly, a coding boot camp, reported website traffic increasing from 175,111 visitors in April 2019 to 313,559 visitors in April 2020, an increase of 179%.

➤ The City University of Seattle is offering a new technology program in collaboration with the Amazon Global Military Affairs Program. The collaboration is designed for working adults and former members of the military and will offer multiple certificates.

➤ The Gies College of Business has partnered with Coursera to offer an MBA program costing less than $25,000. In August 2020, more than 2,500 applications have been received, an increase of 35% from August 2019.

➤ edX reported 5 million new users in April 2020, more than it added in all of 2019.


Tony Pals, spokesman for the National Association of Independent Colleges and Universities, made the following statement — before the pandemic: “Economic, demographic, marketplace, and technological trends are converging to cause an unprecedented time of change for higher education.”

Higher education providers, nipping at the heels of traditional colleges and universities, will continue to increase their market share of learners by offering flexibility, lower costs, and practical courses.

Many of you reading this article will disagree with the takeaway. You still believe that after a vaccine is discovered and distributed, the “traditional” college life will return, looking just like the old life. And you may be right.