How college presidents are finding inspiration in the pandemic

Expert Insight

How college presidents are finding inspiration in the pandemic

A conversation with Melanie Ho about finding strategic opportunities in the COVID-19 era

Many sectors, such as the travel and hospitality industry, are on the precipice of change in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic. While some restaurants and hotels are worried they won’t bounce back, others have started innovating wholly new models. To learn more about how higher education leaders are similarly seizing new strategic opportunities to thrive in a post-pandemic world, I sat down with EAB’s Senior Vice President of Research, Melanie Ho. We chatted about the virtual Leadership Circles Melanie facilitated with several dozen college and university Presidents in late May, which included discussions on how higher education leaders can identify opportunities and make bold changes during these challenging times.

Bridget: It feels like we are constantly reading about the challenges higher education institutions face as a result of COVID-19, so it was uplifting to hear Presidents discuss some of the opportunities presented by the pandemic. Melanie, I’ve often heard you talk about these opportunities within the context of an unexpected “entrance cue.” What is an entrance cue and what types of opportunities are coming up as a result of this unexpected entrance cue?

Bridget: This all makes me think about the “alternative future” scenarios for higher ed that we had already been using, before the pandemic, to provoke discussions with cabinets and boards about bold strategy. We originally conceived these scenarios as thought experiments to push the boundaries of imagination further in strategic planning discussions, almost like science fiction, but so many elements of those futures now seem possible.

Bridget: That’s very exciting and could certainly take higher education in a new direction. You have noted, though—and importantly, I think—that not every bold swing is right for every institution. How should institutional leaders determine which opportunities are right for their institution?

Bridget: One of the more exciting topics discussed during our Presidential Leadership Circles was partnerships. Even before the crisis, presidents were telling us that partnerships—with industry, with local governments, with K-12, and with other universities—would be the key to higher ed’s sustainability. The presidents in our Leadership Circles expressed even stronger interest in partnerships. Beyond thinking about the business model, Presidents are eager to think about how institutions can partner together to address some of the most pressing challenges of the pandemic, like a testing regimen once students are back on campuses. How can leaders know which opportunities are right for them?

Bridget: It feels like this new environment is requiring higher ed leaders to think boldly and creatively in a lot of different ways. That being said, we also know leaders need to think more cohesively about how all these aspirations and individual innovations that have happened this semester add up to comprehensive change. It’s a lot to juggle.

EAB asks you to accept cookies for authorization purposes, as well as to track usage data and for marketing purposes. To get more information about these cookies and the processing of your personal information, please see our Privacy Policy. Do you accept these cookies and the processing of your personal information involved?