Monday, July 13, 2020
Chronicle of Higher Education op-ed: This Will Be One of the Worst Months in the History of Higher Education, by Robert Kelchen (Seton Hall):
Layoffs, declarations of financial exigency, and closures are imminent. Here’s who’s most at risk.
Summer is usually a period of relative calm for most of American higher education, but this one is different. Faculty members are increasingly indignant about the prospect of being forced back on campus in the fall; administrators are quietly scrambling behind the scenes to do contingency planning. These disruptions are just the beginning. Whether colleges are willing to admit it or not, chaos will be greeting many of them in the coming weeks, and wishful thinking will not be enough to avoid it. ...
Colleges primarily rely on four revenue sources to balance their budgets: tuition, state funding, auxiliary sources such as housing and dining, and endowment and donations. Each of these sources will be affected by a primarily online fall. Colleges that get a large share of their revenue from room and board are at highest risk of facing a budget calamity that could lead to closure. ...
My plea to college presidents and boards is to announce the inevitable decision to hold most of the fall semester online immediately rather than trying to wait out competitors. This is the right thing to do for everyone in higher education.
Students can get a higher-quality education if faculty members have more time to prepare classes. Colleges can devote resources to improving online education and making sure that all remaining in-person classes are as safe as possible. Local communities may see fewer out-of-town students who could spread the virus and tax local health-care systems. Finally, governments and public-health agencies can focus their efforts on safely reopening child-care centers and elementary schools that are essential to an economic recovery and cannot be easily replicated online.
College leaders have difficult decisions to make over the coming weeks as they try to navigate uncharted waters. To best protect their institutions and broader communities, it is time to batten down the hatches and prepare for the storm instead of hoping that it miraculously blows over.