Campus Leaders Share Perspective on Higher Ed’s Post-Pandemic Landscape

By Hugh T. Ferguson, NASFAA Staff Reporter

Following one of the most disruptive years on record for campuses delivering their higher education programs, the industry is approaching what could be an inflection point in how their leadership operates, raising a host of questions as to how institutions can best serve students and the needs of their operations.

In the opening session of the NASFAA 2021 Virtual Conference, NASFAA’s leadership joined in a conversation with campus leaders representing admissions, enrollment management, chief financial officers, and registrars about how institutions will be looking towards the future of their programs and what lessons they’ve learned in the past year.

Before delving into the discussion NASFAA National Chair FAAC® Brenda Hicks, director of financial aid at Southwestern College, kicked things off by recognizing the more than 4,000 registrants attending the conference and offered congratulations to the latest Diversity Leadership Program (DLP) class, as well as the 272 individuals who now hold the Certified Financial Aid Administrator® Program (FAAC®) designation.

NASFAA President and CEO Justin Draeger, then jumped into moderating a panel discussion with the main objectives being to sort through where the industry currently stands and how operations will adjust now that changes have been implemented to address the challenges imposed by the pandemic.

“We've invited our colleagues who are right there in the trenches with us on college campuses,” Draeger said of the day’s panelists. “They're seeing what we're seeing, sharing many of our concerns, but then also identifying their own.”

Angel Perez, CEO of the National Association for College Admission Counseling (NACAC), said that recent disruptions and changes concerning testing and enrollment changes have been cause for concern.

“One thing I think deeply about is high school counselors who actually are working on the ground trying to get students to your institutions and how unpredictable it has become,” Perez said. “In terms of what keeps my members up at night, it's really the unpredictability of college enrollment, making sure that admission professionals are prepared, but also on the high school side, how do you advise the next generation of young people through the college admissions process?”

Institutional budgets are always of concern and while the one-time bolstering of funding through use of Higher Education Emergency Relief Fund (HEERF) has helped schools recoup from the initial shock at onset of the pandemic and provide relief to students, a challenge for schools will be sorting through what the ‘new normal’ in funding streams means for their long term fiscal health.

“For our members it's finding a balance between the really tight budgets of the previous fiscal year and the more moderate budgets for the current fiscal year,” said Susan Whealler Johnston, president and CEO of the National Association of College and University Business Officers (NACUBO). “I really believe that we are not going back to ‘normal;’ that institutions should not be thinking that all of the dollars that had been in the budget prior to the pandemic will be coming back.”

Melanie Gottlieb, interim executive director of the American Association of Collegiate Registrars and Admissions Officers (AACRAO), highlighted that from the registrar perspective, a continued challenge is going to be the shortage in financial and human resources with new demands on delivering programs with smaller budgets and less staff.

“A lot of [admissions officials] are emerging stretched really thin, both professionally and personally,” Gottlieb said. “They need to navigate, what's coming next, and they don't know what that looks like.”

However, this sort of tension around uncertainty within the higher education sector has helped spur some innovative thinking that forced schools to quickly respond to issues surrounding the enrollment process.

For Perez these sudden changes to the status quo offered a sense of excitement about virtual tools, now readily available to schools.

His institution would typically host over 90 college fairs per year but with the pandemic had to quickly transition to recruiting virtually.

“One of the things that was really interesting is I got an email from a student in rural Iowa after the first fair who said ‘thank you for doing this because none of the schools I talked to would ever have come to my tiny town in Iowa’ and so colleges and universities are finding different ways to actually get to students,” Perez said. “I do think there's some innovations that are here to stay and my hope if I had a crystal ball and some hope is that I want that level of innovation, and sometimes the speed, to stick around after the pandemic.”

We encourage you to check out the conference schedule, join the conversation on social media this week using #NASFAA2021, listen to our specially curated NASFAA 2021 Playlist for some fun tunes, and learn more about each of our 2021 exhibitors in their interactive, virtual exhibit booths.


Publication Date: 6/23/2021

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