This is the first episode of our podcast, Office Hours with EAB. You can join the conversation on social media using #EABOfficeHours. Follow the podcast on Spotify, Google Play, Apple Podcasts, SoundCloud, and Stitcher or visit our podcast homepage for future episodes.
This episode of Office Hours features EAB Managing Director of Research Dr. David Attis and EAB Vice President of Research Growth Strategy Carla Hickman. Carla and David discuss the immediate effects of COVID-19 on higher ed as well as strategy shifts that school leaders will be forced to consider in the very near future.
They dig into the likely impacts of the federal stimulus package and explore whether the enrollment surge we saw during the last economic downturn is likely to be repeated in the months ahead. They also explore how faculty and students are acclimating to online instruction and consider what this experience might suggest for the future of multi-modal learning.
00:15 Matt Pellish: From EAB, I’m Matt Pellish and this is Office Hours. A podcast from the leader in research, technology, and services for education. At EAB we’re privileged to work with leaders from more than 1,700 colleges and universities, so that gives us this unique window into what they care about, what they’re thinking about, what their concerns and challenges are. In Office Hours we’re gonna discuss what did we learn from talking to all those chancellors and presidents and provosts and other leaders, along with a little of our research, analysis, and sometimes our opinions. In this episode, the first episode, of Office Hours, what should we talk about? Well, since most of us are sheltering in a place, and we’re more concerned about where we’re gonna get Purell and toilet paper than anything else these days, I think the obvious choice is the impact of COVID-19 on campus. To get us started I’ve invited two friends I’ve been working with for about a decade or so here at EAB, David Attis and Carla Hickman, who are gonna talk us through COVID-19’s immediate impact on higher ed, they’re gonna talk about things like strategy shifts, the federal stimulus package, enrollment trends, online education, and something we’re all wondering about, What comes next for higher ed? Thanks again for joining us, and welcome to Office Hours with EAB.
01:37 Carla Hickman: I am Carla Hickman, and I work here at EAB in our research department. I’ve been working with university and college administrators for over a decade now. And I am very excited to be joined this afternoon for our inaugural EAB Office Hours by my colleague, Dr. David Attis. So David, I’ll let you say hello.
01:55 Dr. David Attis: Thank you Carla, my name is David Attis. I’m a senior research advisor here at EAB, and been here for I guess about 13 years, working with Carla for most of that time.
02:03 CH: That’s right. You and I were talking before hand, it is common for us to be giving presentations, to conduct interviews, to spend time talking to each other on the phone, but podcast, a first time for both of us.
02:15 DA: Yes, and it’s great to be able to connect over the airwaves. I know you are in Chattanooga, and I’m here in Silver Spring, Maryland.
02:23 CH: That’s right. I told people earlier, it’s about 80 degrees today and all of my neighbors are mowing the lawn. So hopefully we won’t hear too much of that in the background. [chuckle]
02:34 DA: And I am sitting in a basement that we refer to as the cat room. So if you hear a cat in the background, that’s what’s going on.
02:41 CH: Well David, today obviously top of mind for everyone, for us and for all of higher education, is, as this pandemic and this global crisis continues to unfold, what does that mean for higher education? And I know you and I, we did start at EAB at about the same time. I think I was maybe six months after you. But very shortly thereafter we experienced the Great Recession. And so I have been thinking a lot in the past two weeks since some of the first campus closures were announced related to the coronavirus, are there lessons that schools and colleges can be taking from the Great Recession? How much of that is applicable to the situation we find ourselves in now?
03:22 DA: Yeah, absolutely. And I think one of the things that struck me was that, even six months ago, I was talking about the impact of the Great Recession. It was something that had a tremendous short-term impact, but then the long-term impacts went on for well over a decade when we’re looking at things like state funding, for example. But when I think back to living through that period and focusing on higher education at the time, there was a lot of emphasis on short-term cost cutting. And we did a couple of meetings with some of the folks from Bain Consulting who had been doing big cost cutting engagements at places like UNC Chapel Hill, and Berkeley. And they were told very explicitly to focus on administrative cost cutting; looking at things like procurement, and HR, even some research administration. And there was a play book, and in fact, we produced a report on efficiency and effectiveness audits that kinda gave that playbook. And I think many people thought, “Well, once we reduce those overhead or admin costs we’ll be fine.”
04:16 DA: But what we’ve seen, frankly, coming out of the Great Recession, was public funding never went back to where it was before the Great Recession. It’s still below that level. Universities were able to grow other kinds of tuition revenue in particular by bringing international students, by charging more tuition, more out of state students. But that’s what worries me about this recession that we’re heading into and the impact of the pandemic, is certainly we’re expecting that it’ll be much more difficult to recruit international students in the short term at least. And even domestic students, we’re not quite sure, but we expect we’re gonna see some declines in that enrollment in the short-term. And the cost-cutting that we saw back in 2009, 2010, it’s not gonna be easy to go back and simply do that again because people have been very focused on those administrative costs.
05:03 CH: I’d love to take each of those in turn. I’ve certainly been thinking about the enrollment side of the equation, but maybe we spend a few more minutes on some of the financial implications. I think it’s unavoidable at this point that more state-supported institutions, public institutions, are gonna experience a decrease in state funding. We have been spending a lot of time with institutions who already feel like they’re financially fragile, and they were anticipating that they were gonna have fewer enrollment options in the years to come. Do you think there’s an opportunity here, any levers that they haven’t been able to pull on the cost side? Maybe even some immediate cost savings they might experience in the next few weeks that can help us at least weather the near term?
05:45 DA: It’s tough. Certainly, there are institutions that are cutting back on things like commencement, there’s some savings involved in that. Travel they’ve cut back on. So I think there are a couple of short-term cost savings, but there are also new costs that are coming up with cleaning, for example, or supporting remote learning. So in the very short term I think it might be a little bit of a wash in terms of a new cost versus new revenues. But some places have already announced that they’re looking at layoffs in the future, because vast majority of costs in higher education, 80% or more, are staffing costs. But there’s also a lot of pressure, particularly in the short term, not to lay off staff because there just aren’t any other options for those people. So universities are really kinda caught in the middle between wanting to support all their workers, but also worried they won’t have the cash to be able to pay them in another four or five months.
06:33 CH: Yeah, I think we’ve already realized, as you made the point, state funding has been rapidly on the decline for the last several years. No one expects that that’s gonna be able to bounce back. Governors are gonna have difficult decisions to make, and absorb a lot of health costs in their future budgets. But actually, just not long ago, we heard the federal government stepping in with a record $2 trillion stimulus. What’s the good news there potentially for higher education? I’ve seen some people say that certainly it is better than nothing, but it is not going to be enough.
07:04 DA: Yeah, I think that’s definitely the consensus, is that we needed something, and we need something quickly, but there’s still a lot more that’s gonna need to be done. As we’re looking at the numbers on this new legislation, it’s gonna be allocated largely to students and supporting students, which is great. Students need the support. And it’s gonna be allocated primarily based on the number of Pell students that you have in an overall enrollment. So institutions that are larger or have a larger Pell student body are gonna get more support, and I think that’s a great way to make sure the money is getting to the students. But as we’re talking to VPs of admin and finance, they’re also just worried about the short-term cash flow problems. It’s not clear this is gonna solve that, particularly because it looks like it’s setting up a mechanism for the Department of Education to distribute the funds and they don’t yet have that mechanism so we’re not quite sure how long it will take before the money actually gets to the campuses and to the students.
07:54 CH: I think that’s a good point. And I’ve also been wondering about private institutions. So much of the focus has been on public institutions, both two and four year, but we have been working with independent schools and colleges who have been very concerned about their financial position, and there’ve certainly been number of folks out there who have prognosticated that there will be a wave of closures and more consolidation and merger and acquisition activity across this space. Does the pandemic just accelerate what was already happening, or is there an opportunity here for some of those smaller institutions to see a silver lining?
08:28 DA: I think there’s a real risk there. And I was thinking, it’s a bit like a lot of these small institutions had, could say compromised immune systems. They were already unhealthy, they were already weak. I was just reading the latest report that came out from Moody saying that about 30% of institutions they rate had structural deficits, and then about 10% had less than 90 days cash on hand before the coronavirus. So now that this hits, that’s gonna put even more pressure. And we’ve already seen a few institutions declare financial exigency, or say they’re not gonna bring in a new class next year, and this has just been in the first two weeks. So I think I’m probably most fearful for those smaller privates, and they’re the ones who get the least help from this new stimulus package which is really aimed more at your large student populations, public institutions, and those that have very high Pell populations.
09:18 CH: You know I think, particularly when I think about the institutions that we have been working with, these smaller enrollment institutions, enrollment is what I’ll underscore there. And you started a moment ago that in the Great Recession, when we started to see that contraction or competition of the undergraduate, there were other student populations, other places that you could go. So we talked on international, I think we all know that that’s gonna be complex. I’ve been thinking a lot about the fact that most universities and colleges were already anticipating the birthed earth, or the demographic cliff that Dr. Nathan Grawe spoke so much about over the last year. So some planning was already being taken place to think, “Okay, if we’re not gonna have as many 18-year-olds across the next decade, where else can we turn?” What are you hearing there as we think just about the immediate enrollment next fall or some of that longer term planning of other student populations we could turn to?
10:08 DA: Yeah, you’re absolutely right, folks have been thinking about this for a long time. And we did a study, I think five or six years ago, we called Future Students, Future Revenues, that really looked at how to diversify beyond that more traditional 18-year-old middle class population. And we’ve seen intuitions make huge gains, not only in international, but also in first generation, in low-income students, in underrepresented populations, in transfer students, in adult degree completers, in professional masters degrees, even in short noncredit courses. Everyone’s really worked hard to diversify, you could say. Even places that call themselves a small liberal arts college, they’re supporting high school students who are doing dual enrollment, they’re supporting people coming back for a masters. So there aren’t a lot of new levers that no one’s pulled at all yet, but I do think there might be some opportunities to grow. We’re working adults support.
10:57 DA: I know this is an area you’ve done a lot of work in, Carla, so I’ll turn it back to you. What are your thoughts about the typical recessionary balance that you get in working adults coming back for some sort of additional education? Do you think we’ll see something like that this time, or will it be different?
11:12 CH: I’ve been thinking a lot about that, and you’re right, there’s this truism in higher education that when unemployment rises more adults choose to pursue continued education. I think the vast majority of those students often turn to community colleges. We’ve done a lot of research to show that the kinds of curriculum and programs that community colleges afford are tightly connected to industries and economic opportunity, they’re often at a more affordable price point for individuals. If they don’t have a steady employment it can be intimidating to go back to school and try to think about taking on that financial responsibility. I think though that this is going to be different. So I really question whether that typical counter-cyclical relationship can hold. And for me, I think it’s for a few reasons. I think, one, this is not just an economic downturn, this is not a normal recession, this is a period where people are not just potentially losing their job, but they are literally being ordered to stay home. They are taking on enormous personal health concerns, and stress and anxiety about the world that we’re living in. I don’t think any of us have a road map for what this is gonna look like.
12:27 CH: For any adult learner going back to school is a major consideration, they are already trying to balance personal commitments and professional commitments with this new academic pursuit. And I think universities and colleges are gonna have to think very carefully about what support services they can offer to a student who might feel like, “This is extraordinary moment, I’m not sure this is the right time for me.” I think those working adults to that population that doesn’t yet have the bachelor’s degree or might need some immediate retraining or up-skilling, I think it’s important also to differentiate them from other adults who already have the bachelor’s degree and they might find themselves in the position where this could be a natural moment to go back for a graduate certificate or a master’s. And I think that population… There’s some lessons we can learn from how millennials reacted after the recession, but that’s another group that I think some of the traditional wisdom might be out the window.
13:26 DA: Yeah. Another thing that I think is different is that there was less concern about taking on debt in the Great Recession for students coming back to get a masters. Now there’s a lot of focus on debt, and the high debt that some master’s programs require. Do you think that will disincentivize people to come back to some of those more expensive programs?
13:45 CH: David, there’s a chart that we started producing, I think back in 2014, because we talked about these… This population, we call them the “lost class”. So they’re about 1.4 million US students who had graduated with the bachelor’s degree, they entered the job market at the height of the Great Recession. So, think those students, 2008 to 2012. And what we found about those students is that many of them did turn to graduate education sooner, but it wasn’t just to the traditional masters. And part of the reason was exactly what you just hit on, it’s this debt conversation. So that original graphics showed $1.1 trillion in student loan debt, and it had eclipsed credit card debt in the United States.
14:28 CH: I am constantly having to update that graph, because today in 2020 that number is almost $1.7 trillion in student loan debt. Now, good researchers, good analysts, good higher ed people, would immediately take that $1.7 trillion and explain to you, “Here’s how much of that is for profit versus non-profit, undergrad versus grad. Just because you’re taking on that doesn’t mean there’s not a return.” But the national narrative has really switched. And I think for a lot of students, the prospect of a high-priced graduate degree in a period of time when you aren’t sure how quickly the recovery from this economic downturn will happen, that has really changed their willingness to make that investment.
15:15 DA: Yeah, and I think that both the challenge and the opportunity for higher education is recognizing that there has never been more need for additional education. So even as we’re experiencing this decline of enrollment, and we’ve seen declining enrollments over the last decade if you look at all post-secondary education. But at the same time, we know that working adults want to find additional ways to learn more, to upscale. There’s just sometimes been a mismatch between what they want in terms of the price, the modality, how long it takes, how aligned it is to their career needs, and what universities have been willing to offer.
15:50 CH: I think that’s why we saw so many universities across the last decade really starting to build out their certificate portfolio. There was a fantastic number of institutions who moved towards shorter format. We’ve seen a real movement in… How do you decide which programs are the ones you should launch and add to your portfolio? And people trying to make that very tightly connected to industry and workforce demand. I think those short format credentials, those certificate programs, those could be a real lifeline across the summer and particularly going into the next year. And even better, and particularly given the fact that we’re all living and working and learning remotely, if you’re able to deliver that instruction online. That’s the new flight to quality I think we might see.
16:37 DA: Yeah, and that raises a great question. I know in our research we’ve seen the rise of these mega universities, so a Southern New Hampshire University, Arizona State University, a Liberty University. And these are largely non-profit institutions, both public and private, that have massively scaled up online. And I think sometimes people look down on them, they sort of said, “Well, the only way to get that kind of scale is to have lower quality.” But do you feel like the way their positioned now might lead to even more students going to institutions that have a track record of delivering online education?
17:10 CH: I do, I think there’s always been a relatively high bar for, “If I’m going to sell finance, if I’m gonna take the risk of stepping out or stomping out and taking on this new academic responsibility, show me your outcomes.” Now, that doesn’t always have to be a career outcome, or a job placement rate, or a salary data point, but show me that your students are learning. And not just any student, but someone whose life and interests look like me. And that’s where I think institutions like Southern New Hampshire and ASU have done an excellent job of giving that kind of support and assurance that, “We are going to be able to provide an excellent educational experience.”
17:50 CH: I will tell you, David, I did some data before we had this chat and I saw that those top 10 largest universities if you look at online enrollment, they represent about 26% of all online graduate students. So 10 universities is about 26% of the online grad students.
18:08 DA: Wow.
18:09 CH: However, and I think this is the part people don’t talk about, that proportion has actually been shifting, so they’re losing some of that ground to other providers. So I think while the mega universities may have brand reach and recognition, and many adults in particular may feel more comfortable there, it’s not to say that there aren’t hundreds of other universities and colleges who have strong online portfolios and really strong local and regional reach. And making sure that you are communicating that even right now. We have seen students are still looking for answers, and they’re still looking at programs, so making sure you’re communicating what you have to offer, I think that will make up the difference.
18:50 DA: You used the word regional, I think that brings up another important question that this pandemic raises. When we looked at the demographics and Nathan Grawes work and others, it really predicted declines in attendance for regional institutions because most regions are seeing their demographics of 18-year-olds decline, and there’s a certain percent of students who will go nationally to those institutions with the name brands. Do you think that this, the social distancing, which might end up coming in waves according to some predictions, might make students less willing to go further afield and rather stay closer to home and attend, whether it’s a community college or it’s some other regional institution?
19:31 CH: I think that might be true in particular at the undergraduate level. I’ve been trying to think about, if I were a student who was entering undergraduate education right now, would I wanna stay closer in-state? Not only because often that local institution might be more affordable for me, but it might be my only viable option. It does make me wonder then about those areas where that 18-year-old population is smaller. How do you continue to extend your recruitment reach if there simply are fewer of those students to go around? I think it’s gonna be a little bit different on the graduate side. And I would say to an institution that’s in a region where they’re already experiencing that demographic contraction of 18-year-olds, this is where having online programs that could reach a broader region or a secondary market… You don’t have to go from regional to national. You can actually be very targeted and identify some secondary markets, maybe you have a strong alumni presence there that can help. But identifying those secondary markets in the graduate space and providing that online option may be the way that they need to focus moving forward.
20:37 DA: And I think we’re at an interesting moment now with online education. When I think back again to meetings we had in 2009, 2010, most of our four-year institutions, both public and private, non-profit, were skeptical. They really associated online with the for profit institutions. That changed dramatically over the last decade so that now most institutions have some online. Even small liberal arts colleges might have online summer courses or they might have an adult degree completer program. But there’s still a pretty large component of faculty who are uncomfortable with online, unfamiliar with online, and they’ve all been forced in the last 10 days to start doing it, or at least start doing something that they might think of as online. I think some of the better pundits have been clear on the distinction between remote instruction and online instruction.
21:26 DA: We’ve seen in our work, online done well requires pretty significant investments of time, technology, instructional design, really thinking through the pedagogy and how you can engage students. It’s not the same thing as just recording a lecture and putting it online. But I think there’s a hope that as faculty are now frankly forced to teach remotely, they will be open to trying some of those techniques and then maybe even integrating them into their work after this is over.
21:52 CH: I think that’s right. I think there are a lot of hidden benefits too, that I hope faculty and instructors and graduate assistants and students are all experiencing. I have been personally speaking with instructional designers, some of our leaders in online education who were really out front here, and they said the minute that you enter into these remote courses, even though they’re not perfect, right? This is not about being perfect, this is about doing the best we can to not lose learning in this moment. You’ll notice that certain students who might have been hesitant to raise their hand or participate in a class discussion, their voice is now heard through that discussion board post. Certain students who found that they were intimidated by a large lecture course can now find a community within those smaller course sections that they’re developing. And I think it’s also remembering that use the tools that are already there. So many campuses create a course shell in the learning management system for every class on campus, and fewer than 50% of faculty had ever logged in. And I’ve heard a few stories already of a faculty member saying, “Oh, wow. Yeah, this is absolutely beneficial. There are ways this is gonna change my instruction even if, at the end of the day, I hope we go back mostly face-to-face.”
23:07 DA: And I wonder if the same thing’s happening for students, many of whom had already experienced at least one online course, and are also seeing some benefits to this. Even though they’re missing what’s happening on campus right now, I think as you said, there are things they can do online that they couldn’t do if they were only face-to-face.
23:24 CH: That’s right. And I’ve been thinking about some of our leaders here who have already been thinking about the multimodal student. I think you and I look to places like the University of Central Florida, who already talk about their students as wanting to ebb and flow in and out of hybrid online and face-to-face instruction. While right now we only have this one option through remote, I do hope that this increases the willingness and flexibility on all sides to embrace a multimodal future.
23:56 DA: And I think the economic consequences that we anticipate are clearly gonna be very hard on young people. Already we saw unemployment claims spike, and it’s often those entry-level employees who are the first that get cut, although we’re gonna see some really interesting differences by industry, I think, as well. So then the question becomes, How do we help students who are struggling to find work but are also very debt-averse to make that balance between work and school? And I think that’s where that multimodal approach so students can be taking online courses, they can be working at the same time, I think that’s gonna very important for helping students stay involved, stay enrolled, and be successful, but also gain the kinds of experiences they know will help prepare them for the job market that’s gonna be very difficult when they graduate.
24:41 CH: Yeah, I think a lot of that, I can’t… I often make the joke with our members that I don’t have a crystal ball and I can’t tell you exactly what industries or programs to bet on when you’re thinking about new launches. I definitely can’t right now. But I can say that if I think about graduate education in particular, that’s often very closely tied to certain industries or fields. There’s a lot we don’t yet know. The fields that were growing before COVID were places like health professions, at both the two year and the four year. I think there could be a response here where more people flock to those programs, both out of necessity because we’ll need more respiratory therapists and phlebotomists and nurses to support public health, but also out of a sense of calling.
25:27 CH: They see this moment and they wanna be part of that community that helps. On the other hand though, I think there could be other people who say, “I’m nervous about what it might mean to be part of the allied health professions right now, given everything that we’re confronting.” So I’ve really appreciated, I think, how thoughtful faculty and deans and other leaders in those fields are being. Let’s do what we can for now, let’s put some contingency plans in place, but let’s realize that our students are coming at this question of what’s the right next job for me from a very different place than they were in 2012.
26:02 DA: And that question of how to predict the future has been very much on my mind. As we’re working with institutions, even these past two weeks, we’ve had hundreds of conversations with chief business officers, with provosts, with VPs of enrollment management, VPs of student affairs, and they’re all asking what’s gonna happen in the fall. And so I and my team have been working on some scenarios. What does it look like if we can go back to some sort of face-to-face instruction during the summer? What if we can’t do it during the summer? What if we can’t do it during the fall? What does that look like? And help people think through what can we do, both to prepare for those scenarios, but also what are the likely consequences to things like domestic enrollment or international enrollment or student retention, or even things like cash flow and annual giving, to help give people a better way of thinking through this uncertainty that we’re all dealing with.
26:54 CH: How do you create time? I wonder in those conversations, I’ve heard so many people say it’s not even a day-to-day, it’s an hour-by-hour trying to prioritize, Where do I need to make a decision? What’s the next crisis? How do you help cabinets and leadership teams make the time to prioritize future planning scenarios like that?
27:15 DA: It was a huge issue before this crisis, and it became very difficult, obviously, with the crisis. We hear people having cabinet meetings every single morning to just pull up on what’s happening. I am starting to hear a slight change. So I think in the first, say, week to 10 days, there was, “Well, we had no idea was coming, and we’re rapidly trying to get everyone remote, make a lot of very quick decisions.” Now people are talking about things like, “Do we go to pass-fail grading? How do we change the tenure clock?” There are a lot of small policy changes that have to be made. But I’m also hearing from some folks, particularly people who are in, say, admin finance, that, “Okay, we’ve gotta start thinking a couple of months out.” Because they’re looking at their cash flows and they’re worrying about that. Or they’ve got a spring board meeting coming up and the board is gonna ask them. “What does this mean for the fall?” So I think we’re getting to a stage where, not that we’ve resolved all of the near-term issues, but we’ve at least recognized what they are, and we now have on our own website, eab.com, a resource center that goes through all those common decisions folks have to make.
28:16 DA: So I do think it’s creating an opening for people to start thinking about, “How do we get ready for the summer? And what might this mean for the summer?” And because we’re already in the enrollment recruitment season, you can’t not think about the fall because now May 1 is coming up and some people are pushing to June 1 for a decision date. If you don’t make certain actions right now, you’re not gonna have the class that you wanna have in the fall.
28:39 CH: You know, David, one thing I’d be curious, as they think about the future, and it ties back to the conversation we were having before about how depending on your enrollment size or whether you’re public or private or where you’re geographically located, your future scenario could look very different. Do you think we’ll see more institutions partnering together? I know that kind of inter-institutional partnership is always a bit tricky in higher ed, but seems to me like if there were ever a moment to think through how do we share more courses, how do we work together, how do we save and become more efficient through a consortium, it feels like now is the time.
29:14 DA: Yeah, Carla, I absolutely agree. I think that I’ve heard conversations like that for the past five or 10 years, but they never went anywhere. Because people saw so many barriers, cultural barriers, political barriers to making those kinds of… Just in sharing courses across small private institutions, or sharing back office operations across regional institutions, sharing library resources. We’ve found examples of each of those, but few of them really scaled up particularly well because there were trade-offs that had to be made and there were institutional identities that often got in the way. But as we looked at mergers and acquisitions and there was a lot of research about that recently, what we found is that those were even more difficult to do. And so I think some people are looking at those kinds of consortia as an alternative to a, closure, or B, a full-out merger, which creates all kinds of other problems.
30:04 DA: So I do think that will open up conversations, because let’s say I’m part of a faith community that has 20 institutions and we don’t think all of them can be successful. Is there some sort of consortium we can create where we’re sharing… Maybe we’re even sharing senior administrators. We’re sharing online resources. Maybe even sharing software licenses, things like that, that might make it possible for us to maintain those physical locations because we know that if we close physical locations we might lose students who are not as mobile.
30:34 CH: And you know, I spend a lot of my time on the other side of the partnership equation thinking about industry, so public-private partnerships, employer partnerships. So I think also interesting to watch, do we see more companies and organizations partnering directly with higher education, both in the immediate term to ensure any working professionals who are enrolled in programs and were benefiting are able to get new skills that they need to continue to be productive, but beyond that, as we all work together to try to lift our communities up as we move forward and figure out what all the ramifications will be at this current moment.
31:10 DA: I do think a crisis like this makes us realize that we’re all better when we work together. I think individual organizations are realizing that and I think communities are realizing that too. And some of the most inspiring stories I’m reading about higher education are about the community impact that they’re having. Opening up their dorms to house people who need to be quarantined, or supporting healthcare professionals who need a place to stay away from their families so they don’t infect their families. Helping, obviously, with the researching vaccines. But also I read a story the other day about figuring out a quick way to build a face protection using commonly available tools.
31:45 DA: So I think what we’re gonna see is that for all the pressures on higher education, our communities couldn’t survive without it. Not only in the economic sense that it’s one of the largest employers in most regions, but also the way it supports students, the way it supports businesses, the way it supports the community at large. Even just the recognition that having students go remote led to lots of questions about what about students who are food insecure, or housing insecure, don’t have internet access at home? We realized our college and universities were really a lifeline for so many people. And that’s really essential. And I think that’s why this first round of stimulus was not as generous as we hoped it would be. I think it’s gonna become increasingly clear that higher education is such an essential component of our national economy and just our communities that we’re gonna have to make sure we can support these institutions through it.
32:32 CH: I think that’s a great place to end. It reminds me of so many conversations we’ve had with provosts, particularly of public institutions, who’ve said this is a moment for us to reclaim the national narrative. We have talked about that, we’ve talked about affordability, we’ve talked about outcomes, but truly, higher education enduring institutions who are truly a public good. And I think in the stories that I have heard, certainly the ones you cited, but also just the ways that they are continuing to ensure that students and faculty and staff are feeling safe, that they have a community. It’s the people who, in the development office, are dropping everything to reach out to perspective students to say, “We want you here and we are here to support you wherever you might be.” I think that those kinds of stories and those unsung heroes, in this moment, give us an opportunity to remind people of all the good colleges and universities do.
33:27 DA: Absolutely.
33:34 MP: Thanks for listening to Office Hours with EAB. I encourage you to visit eab.com for help and information as we all work through the challenges brought on by COVID-19. We’ve built a COVID-19 Resource Center for higher education you’ll see highlighted on our home page, featuring insights, blog posts and lots of support. And join us for our next episode when my colleagues Kaitlyn Maloney and Michael Fisher will be discussing what the Federal Stimulus Bill means for higher education. Until next time, I’m Matt Pellish for EAB.
"For all the pressures on higher education, our communities couldn’t survive without it."
"I hope this increases the willingness and flexibility on all sides to embrace a multi-modal future.”
"There aren’t a lot of new levers that no one’s pulled at all yet, but I do think there might be some opportunities to grow."
"If you don’t take certain actions right now, you’re not going to have the class you want to have in the fall."
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