EAB’s latest take on the coronavirus crisis and what it means for higher education

EAB’s latest take on the coronavirus crisis and what it means for higher education

EAB's Latest Take

As the COVID-19 pandemic shut the world down and focused attention on public health and epidemiology, college and university leadership anticipated increased growth in student and employer demand for non-clinical health care skills and degrees. While we reported earlier that clinical health care education will likely only face short-term declines in interest, it remains less clear how the COVID-19 crisis will impact employer and student demand across non-clinical health care fields in the future.

Across July, EAB hosted three virtual working sessions with 54 admissions leaders representing over 50 institutions across the United States and Canada. During this time, we also surveyed over 230 enrollment leaders on their plans for fall admissions given the pandemic. The survey and working sessions delved into how admissions teams are recruiting and engaging with prospective students for fall 2021 and beyond.

Everyone is feeling the impact of the pandemic – its disruption to everyday life, isolating social restrictions, and the stress of a widespread threat to public health – as well as the economic fallout of a closed economy. However, like so many natural disasters and economic events, the impact is felt much more heavily by certain racial and socioeconomic groups.

While management-level professionals in food service and hospitality have weathered the economic crisis better than front-line workers, their employment will be at risk as shutdowns continue and businesses close. To help them transition to manager positions in higher growth fields, institutions need to create flexible, low-cost offerings in finance and data analytics to capitalize on these professionals existing strength in customer service and people management.

Today’s graduates face the bittersweet reality of earning a degree only to enter the workforce at a moment of unprecedented uncertainty. We are only beginning to grasp how the global pandemic will reshape life, work, and learning, yet the economic ripple effects can already be felt.

While there’s much we don’t know, early economic signals and expected audience behaviors can help us anticipate who’s most in need of your adult and professional education offerings in the COVID-19 aftermath. Thinking about impacts by audience segment can identify which programs offer the greatest value, and what you might need to do to maximize that value for potential students.

Across the last few months, student affairs teams have been working diligently to transform their summer programs to a digital format—no easy task. EAB convened nearly 100 student affairs and enrollment professionals to share common challenges, exchange ideas, and learn from one another. Across these convenings, we discussed the many ways to introduce students to your institution, build a sense of affinity and community, and orient students to important resources and policies.

Facing an economic downturn and fierce competition for undergraduate enrollments, colleges and universities are looking for a silver lining: countercyclical enrollments. This tendency for enrollments to increase as the economy declines is well documented. But leadership at four-year institutions shouldn’t get their hopes up. Not every institution benefits equally from these additional students. The Great Recession had a far smaller impact on baccalaureate and graduate enrollments than it did on community colleges and vocational programs.

Many students are facing tough decisions about their academic futures due to the societal and economic impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic. This video shares eight tactics to help higher ed enrollment teams mitigate summer melt and improve enrollment outcomes for both new and returning students.

The large population of unemployed food services, hospitality, and retail workers presents the opportunity to deliver programs aligned to sustainable, post-coronavirus careers regionally. Colleges and universities, however, must ensure students recognize the return on their educational investment despite today’s hard economic times. Programs must also align with available financial support so increased enrollments are financially sustainable.

University administrators nationwide are currently knee deep in scenario planning for bringing students back to campus. There are a lot of unknowns – including when federal and state restrictions will be lifted and the modality of instruction that will be in place across the year. While many schools have announced plans to hold classes face-to-face in the fall if at all feasible, it may not be.

Beyond urgent efforts to get qualified practitioners into the workforce, institutional leaders need to be thinking ahead on their overall health care portfolio and how they can contribute to future health care needs. Top-of-mind programs for their discussion should include nursing and allied health fields (e.g., physician assistant), and medicine for schools with the resources.

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