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

Up until earlier this year, engagement has meant tailgates, alumni happy hours, professional development workshops, and other in-person events. Digital programs were a rarity, an afterthought, a side-of-desk activity for busy event planners. All of that got turned on its head in March of this year. COVID-19 forced an abrupt pivot and, as a result, pushed alumni engagement strategy years into the future.

As colleges and universities continue to gear up for the new academic year, career services leaders are grappling with how to connect students and employer partners in a virtual environment. To learn more about what virtual engagement will look like this fall, EAB hosted a webinar in late July 2020 with leaders in the career services and campus recruiting spaces to discuss the future of virtual employer engagement.

Across the country, college and university leaders are revamping campus opening plans. COVID cases are surging in more than half of US states, which will reinforce the need to plan for a largely online fall. As campus leadership grapples with public health planning, many are also actively thinking through tradeoffs that could heavily impact their fall enrollment.

Providing students with opportunities to build community and form meaningful connections will not only make students more willing to follow distancing guidelines, but will also positively impact students’ mental health—another growing crisis of the global pandemic. EAB has identified four strategies to foster connections among the student body in a physically distant environment.

Leaders in higher education are grappling with a climate of constant uncertainty as the COVID-19 epidemic continues to evolve in the United States and around the world. While plans for the upcoming semester may change, one of the few certainties for institutions is if and when students return to campus, they will need to practice physical distancing until a vaccine is widely available.

At many institutions, living on campus is a crucial dimension of the student experience, as well as a key source of auxiliary revenue. But current public health evidence indicates that communal living could strongly facilitate virus transmission, and many campuses lack the ability to give each student the safest option of a private room and bathroom. Ultimately, all universities are facing the same question: what is the housing solution that provides students with an on-campus experience that’s as fulfilling as possible, while also protecting the community from outbreaks?

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.

As critical as it is to prioritize an isolation and quarantine strategy as part of your repopulation strategy, it is just as important to determine what approach works best for the needs of your campus community. Inherent in every decision is a balance between cost and risk to public health. EAB has spent the past few months speaking to higher education leaders about their IQ strategies and have catalogued the spectrum of approaches into the following tiers.

The decision to pull-back from repopulation will be one of the most complicated any leadership team will make. Not only are the public health and financial consequences immense, but there are dozens of variables that could inform this decision. Some of these may contradict one another, and others—like faculty and student opinion—are not easily quantified.

The sight of students in business professional clothes clamoring at the doors of a career fair will be but a distant memory for career services leaders and employer recruiters this Fall. With physical distancing measures and employer travel suspensions in place for some time to come, career services must be ready to facilitate virtual connections between students and employers for career fairs and other activities. As the Fall draws nearer, many employers report feeling left in the dark about career services’ plans. Here are three imperatives for career services leaders to immediately develop and communicate Fall plans to employer partners.

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.

As we look toward the next academic year, what are college presidents thinking about the worldwide COVID-19 pandemic, economic crisis, and racial injustices facing their communities? In this interview with Harrisburg Area Community College's President John "Ski" Sygielski, you’ll hear answers to those questions and learn how partnership with EAB can extend staff resources by providing robust research, best-practices, and technology to improve student success outcomes.

As higher education institutions and other organizations continue to move to an increasingly sustained virtual environment in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic, career services offices face the challenge of adapting to engage students and employers virtually. While many career services offices already migrated their offerings and events to a virtual environment this past spring, they must keep their websites up-to-date as staffing, hours, and programs continue to evolve across the late summer and fall.

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.

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.

Chances are, it took a mere matter of weeks for the COVID-19 pandemic to throw a major wrench in strategic plans. However, we can’t afford to wait another year before finalizing and implementing bold strategic moves. In fact, revisiting and revising institutional strategy now is perhaps the most important step in ensuring long-term sustainability for our institutions.

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 shift to widespread virtual instruction and operations in the wake of the coronavirus pandemic underscores that digital transformation is no longer a luxury but a necessity for business continuity. Institutional leaders who had not made necessary investments find themselves asking: where do I begin, and do I need a ‘digital strategy ’?

Given the complexity of de-densifying campus, complying with health regulations, and reducing the risk of infections, SFOs continue to play a critical role in the university’s response. However, Facilities leaders are struggling to communicate key messages about repopulating campus to other leaders. To support repopulation conversations, this article captures five messages every Facilities leader needs the rest of campus to understand.

Using early indicators and extrapolating from past economic and global health data, EAB has developed three scenarios for how to forecast the impact of COVID-19 on university enrollments, finance, and student success over the next 12-18 month

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.

As campuses continue to operate in our new virtual reality, it is critically important that accessibility is at the forefront of online design and instruction, so that all students can learn effectively. With a lot of progress to be made across the board, the IT Forum has narrowed down the top considerations for institutions looking to make their remote learning environments accessible for all.

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.

In this new remote world, students find themselves in a situation for which many are ill-prepared. In this webinar, we discuss how to promote student success in a remote space and maintain engagement in a socially distanced world.

The impact of COVID-19 has forced many colleges and universities to recreate orientation in a virtual format and decide how to use an important component of successful orientations: student orientation leaders. This insight outlines strategies to empower your orientation leaders to build community and engagement for incoming students in the new remote environment.

The drumbeat of US vs. China sentiment in Washington DC has grown stronger, giving way to new policies and positions that will negatively impact US research universities. Some of these dustups make national news, but given the whirlwind of information related to COVID, it is easy to lose track of what is happening on a global scale. This write up summarizes stories relevant to university research leaders monitoring how the federal government is responding to foreign interference and global research partnerships.

Research ramp-up plans include exhaustive detail on how researchers can keep themselves and their colleagues safe as they return to their labs. But these plans can be daunting, sometimes providing too much detail and burying the most important information that individual PIs need to know. To help institutions craft more actionable ramp-up plans—and ensure they have taken the appropriate steps to safeguard researcher well-being—we have outlined the minimum health and safety measures they should enact for individual researchers.

IT leaders are now grappling with how to effectively implement contact tracing technology and protocols on their campuses and ensure that data is being protected and ethically utilized. Although these new capabilities are still taking shape, we can glean some early lessons about the challenges and opportunities that contact tracing technology presents by reviewing how international and local governments have approached these tools.

The coronavirus pandemic has demonstrated that digital transformation (DX) is no longer a luxury, but a foundational investment for the higher education sector. To further unpack this new reality, we recently sat down (virtually) with Alan Hill, Chief Information and Digital Officer at the University of Exeter in the United Kingdom, who shared his insights on balancing immediate IT needs in response to the pandemic with longer-term digital priorities.

As institutions grapple with COVID-related expenses—and anticipate future budget shortfalls—some have begun furloughing staff to temporarily reduce salary costs. While furloughs are an attractive alternative to layoffs, most institutions haven’t considered furloughing staff since the Great Recession—and today’s circumstances are quite different than they were a decade ago. As a result, leaders are adapting their historic furlough approach to the COVID-19 context.

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.

The predicted surge in students opting out of or postponing their freshman year has also led to broad concerns around yielding the fall 2020 class. Given these circumstances, keeping students engaged through virtual programming will be vital for institutions’ long-term success. Through six virtual working groups conducted over the month of April, EAB identified seven key strategies for remote student engagement to help guide your institution’s programming through the summer and early fall.

A lot of the focus, and rightly so, has been on how career services and institutions can support the current graduating class find employment. However, it is important to also consider the far-reaching impact the pandemic will have on students who will be graduating in the next year or two. Not only will these students graduate into a challenging economy, but will do so after losing experiential learning opportunities that are critical for building a network and landing that coveted post-graduation job.

As most institutions transition to virtual orientation in response to COVID-19, students will turn to the orientation website even more frequently for updates. An engaging and student-friendly orientation website can help make students more excited for fall classes, while a confusing one may leave them questioning their college decision.

Research leaders recognize that whenever activity can ramp back up, it won’t be as simple as flipping a switch—instead, it will need to occur in phases and take into consideration capacity limitations. EAB recently surveyed 47 research leaders about how they’re deciding when to begin ramping research back up—and which researchers they plan on bringing back to campus first.

As governments around the world scramble to respond to COVID-19’s financial impacts, many countries have introduced relief packages for their respective tertiary or higher education sectors. In most instances, government relief accounts for just a fraction of universities’ expected losses. Higher education providers in some countries are receiving no direct emergency funding at all, with policy changes making up the bulk of government action. To make sense of the different support packages and policy changes affecting HEIs, EAB has put together a short summary of where universities stand in terms of relief in different corners of the globe.

Even though campuses are empty and students away, colleges and universities have found new ways to demonstrate their role as a key contributor to the health of their communities during the COVID-19 crisis. Below, EAB has rounded up some of our favorite examples of higher education institutions doing good during this challenging time, illustrating the diversity of ways campuses are giving back to strengthen community ties and drive innovation.

Prior to the crisis, however, campus dining spaces were already undergoing significant changes based on the preferences and eating habits of students in the Generation Z cohort. The impact of COVID-19 will amplify these student desires long after campuses reopen for business. Here are three ways COVID-19 will change campus dining—and the Gen Z-focused investments already well-positioned to support these evolving student needs.

Facing new financial pressures from COVID-19, a growing number of institutions are contemplating furloughs as a way to avoid layoffs, retain staff, and generate short-term salary savings. Some are indefinitely furloughing staff whose jobs cannot be performed remotely. Others are asking all staff to take a pre-defined number of furlough days.

Amid a global pandemic and recession, students face unprecedented challenges securing jobs and internships. According to a Handshake student survey conducted in March, 73% of college seniors are still searching for full-time jobs, and 23% of students with a secured internship had the offer rescinded. Here are three urgent action items for supporting your graduating students’ career needs right now:

EAB is now launching Emergency Response Tabletop Exercises specifically designed for colleges and universities. Created for cabinet leadership, these exercises help leaders anticipate potential crises, accelerate decision-making, and identify critical vulnerabilities in their existing policies. They also provide the space and materials for charting a course of action if and when a crisis occurs.

EAB’s Katie Langford sat down with Kathy Jones, Associate Vice President for Facilities, Engineering and Planning at Rice University in Houston, Texas. Kathy shared insights around Rice’s shift in campus operations, like what it means to enter a “full lock-down,” how to stagger essential staff schedules, and the importance of documentation for potential reimbursement.

With large in-person events cancelled for the next few months, enrollment and student affairs professionals must now scramble to remake orientation—even as many sessions are scheduled to begin in a matter of weeks. We surveyed 57 student affairs and enrollment leaders to see how they are changing summer orientation in response to the COVID-19 pandemic.

In this short video, EAB’s Chief Information Security Officer, Brian Markham, shares early insights about online threats inspired by COVID-19 and tactics for campus community members to defend themselves.

In this short video, EAB’s Chief Information Security Officer, Brian Markham, discusses the top three activities that information security teams can undertake to identify and patch security vulnerabilities.

The campus visit is traditionally the venue to establish your institution as the place admitted students can see themselves spending the next four years. Being able to see the different spaces in which they will live, work, grow, and connect, and appreciating the resources and facilities available to them is crucial to helping students begin to feel a connection with your school.

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.

Here you’ll find resources to support remote instruction across different types and sizes of courses, guidelines for maintaining equity and accessibility, and strategic frameworks to guide the next phases of online course development for summer and fall.

At a time when large scale, and potentially disruptive, changes are needed for higher education’s COVID-19 response and strategy, it’s especially critical that leaders are able to avoid these psychological pitfalls to make the right decisions. Here’s how you can identify and redirect three common crisis thinking patterns that can obstruct effective recovery and response.

The IT Forum has hosted a series of webinars dedicated to COVID-19 with Chief Information Officers from across the country. Our insight outlines the major takeaways and lessons-learned for the IT organization as they move from a position of fire-fighting to strategic preparation and enablement.

Nearly 12 million K-12 students live in households without reliable access to broadband and/or a 1:1 device. The problem has grown increasingly concerning now that schools are relying almost entirely on the internet to deliver remote instruction. Here are several temporary suggestions from school leaders who are finding ways to bridge technology gaps and deliver remote instruction.

Just as enrollment teams were moving into “crunch time” to solidify their fall classes, COVID-19 struck. Read our expert insight for yield strategies enrollment leaders can use to convince admitted students to enroll, despite a global pandemic.

The phrase we must “meet students where they are,” is one that’s often repeated in student affairs and it has taken on new urgency amidst the COVID-19 crisis. Given the stress and uncertainty in these unprecedented times, institutions are focusing on new ways to engage students around health and wellness online.

In the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic and the constantly evolving global situation, HE providers have been tasked with quickly responding to unprecedented challenges. In keeping abreast of the evolving global situation, EAB has convened dozens of virtual roundtables with university leaders to source ideas and collaborate on ways to meet these challenges.

If the COVID-19 crisis ends with this semester, that will be enough, and IT can take its well-deserved curtain call. But we may well need a longer-term response. Institutions needn’t think just yet about what the post-pandemic “new normal” will be, but they do need to shore up current improvisations for potentially extended use.

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.

During this time, as several in-person conferences cancel or delay and staff are remote, it is more critical than ever to provide opportunities for flexible staff engagement and professional development. Through the COVID-19 crisis, EAB is making our new Professional Development Resource Center available to all educational institutions.

Higher education leaders have spent the last few weeks anticipating how Washington will help colleges and universities get through the COVID-19 crisis. Now, federal assistance is, at last, on the way, though several complex provisions await implementation, making their impact uncertain.

While these are certainly trying times, various circumstances can necessitate virtual services from today’s colleges and universities. Watch the on-demand webconference where EAB's Christina Hubbard, Senior Director of Strategic Research, will share a few recommendations that can help you, your students, and your staff to feel more connected even when they can’t interact in person.

With the fall semester quickly approaching, many institutions are weighing how to facilitate safe, modified in-person campus operations. Residence halls—a cornerstone of socialization for most students—pose some of the greatest challenges for resuming campus life. If your leadership team is considering bringing residential students back to campus, here are four considerations to think about now. ­

The IT Forum is working to source ideas and resources to help support campus and IT staff as the novel coronavirus has shaped a “new normal” for colleges and universities.

Join EAB researchers in the last meeting in the Responding to COVID-19: Harnessing APS Data and EAB Best Practices webinar series. During the event, we share how to launch annual reviews, provide program leaders with guidance to support improvement or growth, and strategically deploy resources to support program redesign.

With the continued COVID-19 crisis-related disruption to community colleges and students, administrators have begun asking questions about how to transition in-person events, such as orientation, into our new, socially-distant, and primarily virtual world. To create an engaging virtual orientation experience, follow these three guidelines our research team developed based on recent interactions with our partners.

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