Why Colleges Should Plan for an Exclusively Online Fall
If we don’t prepare for the possibility, we risk complete chaos
University leaders are knee-deep in scenario planning, budgeting,and cost savings at a pace never experienced in our history, which is not surprising given potential revenue losses of 25 percent or more next year, and even the year after. We survived the spring by moving our classes online in a manner that no one could imagine was possible. I am worried, though, that many colleges will not survive the fall without focusing on one of the most important issues from a student perspective — quality virtual education. Students are demanding something different than “remote instruction,” and we need to make major changes for them. The clock is not on our side.
Higher ed has generally been slow to move to online education. Before the spring move to “Zoom U.,” only 17 percent of students were engaged in online learning. Now it is nearly 100 percent. Students have clearly communicated that the quality and experience of this form of virtual education is not what they signed up for, as evidenced by lawsuits demanding tuition refunds and anticipated drops of enrollment for the next academic year. How are universities responding now?
Most leaders are doing everything possible to facilitate a return to on-campus instruction for the fall, an admirable but incomplete strategy. Behind the scenes, some colleges are preparing additional online material and new technologies, but a dramatic shift in urgency is needed. Every university should be preparing, right now, for a complete online delivery model for the fall. I am certainly not wishing this outcome, but it is a distinct possibility, and if we don’t prepare for it, we will have complete chaos and we will let our students down. We only have two months to make another amazing shift in our higher-education delivery model, and we can only accomplish this if we work together — on our individual campuses, at the system level, and with national coordination and support.