Higher Education Will Need to Innovate to Survive in Post-COVID World, Panelists Say

By Owen Daugherty, NASFAA Staff Reporter

Much has been discussed in recent months about the future of higher education following the massive disruption caused by the ongoing pandemic, and one thing panelists on Tuesday made clear is that innovation will be needed for higher education to survive the economic downturn.

In the final session of NASFAA’s 2020 Summer Training Series on Tuesday, higher education experts and leaders provided a glimpse into the future of how the sector needs to adapt as a whole and what individual institutions are doing to best assist students through a year that will surely look different from previous ones.

“In the end, we will all be hybrid in some way, and that goes for the private liberal arts schools to the public state institutions,” said Ted Mitchell, president of the American Council on Education (ACE).

Both Governors State University President Cheryl Green and Southern New Hampshire University President Paul LeBlanc agreed with Mitchell’s sentiment, highlighting their own offerings and accelerated transitions to remote education, noting the wide range of students that online learning benefits.

LeBlanc, who runs an institution that offers extensive online instruction, spoke to the importance of institutions continuing to innovate their online course offerings, saying “it’s not just throwing up a Powerpoint anymore.”

Adding to LeBlanc’s point, Green said institutions will have to offer services beyond simply the educational offerings, working with faculty and staff to provide students with telehealth, telecounseling, and online office hours to accommodate all students, but particularly those adversely impacted by the pandemic.

“The pandemic has shed light on our vulnerable populations, but our vulnerable populations were always there,” she said. 

Higher education author Jeff Selingo said institutions will have to broaden their reach and market to non-traditional students in order to thrive in the new reality facing higher education. He also addressed the challenges financial aid offices will encounter in the coming months when trying to allocate funding, noting they won’t have the same data points — such as grades, test scores, and in some cases family incomes — as they have had in previous years.

Ultimately, Mitchell struck an optimistic tone, pointing to higher education's unique ability to adapt and evolve over the years.

“I’m rather bullish about innovating our way out of this problem, but we do know there will be closures,” he said. “The pressure is there, but I do have great confidence in colleges’ ability to innovate.”


Publication Date: 8/5/2020

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