The COVID-19 pandemic and the ensuing economic recession have put tremendous financial pressure on higher education institutions. A recent survey of more than 120 chief business officers (CBOs) found that public and private non-profit organizations reported total losses for the fiscal year as high as 45% of their operating budgets, with a median of 20%.
In response, the federal government has provided Historical funding level -Over US$77 billion-Pass the Coronavirus Relief Measures and the US Rescue Plan Act, and more may be done through the Biden Administration’s US Employment Plan and the US Family Plan. But nearly one-third of CBOs reported that their total federal relief program was insufficient to cover their losses.
However, if institutions use funds to promote innovation and strategic investments, rather than fill loopholes and restore “business as usual,” federal funds may become a bridge and lifeline to a stronger and more resilient future. From the pandemic, higher education institutions have the opportunity to make meaningful changes to their business models and reshape the way they provide education, what kind of experience and participation they create with their students, and how they bring in the workforce-teachers And staff-return to campus in the “next normal”.
Just as a university president recently joined the Ernst & Young Parthenon and Inside higher education, “The funds did not solve the problems that existed before the pandemic, but they bought us time. It depends on how we use this time.”
In the survey, CBOs expressed interest in making fundamental changes in a variety of ways, including reimagining learning methods; rethinking how to attract students, faculty and staff; considering cost optimization opportunities by focusing on core higher education missions; and increasing outsourcing and Public-private partnership.
For many institutions, the switch to online teaching almost overnight in March 2020 is their first large-scale exposure to digital teaching. CBOs expect to use this medium for a long time: more than half of the respondents said that adding or expanding online projects is the most important area of change for their organization in the next one to three years.
More than one-third of survey respondents expect an increase in enrollment in mixed courses, and more than a quarter expect an increase in enrollment in fully online courses. To support this shift to blended and online learning, more than 90% of CBOs stated that their institutions increased their budget allocations for classroom technology and digital teaching tools this fiscal year, and they expect to continue to increase these budgets in the next three years To five years.
As higher education institutions expand mixed and online learning opportunities, new challenges may arise in supporting students, especially low-income and first-generation students. Although online or remote interactions may not be intended to replace all face-to-face interactions, a key lesson learned is that they can be used to enhance the experience.
As a principal of a small private non-profit organization with a highly diversified student body said: “Since the transfer of courses and student services to the Internet, my organization has found that the retention rate of first-generation students has increased. “
The pandemic has also contributed to a major shift in the way university employees work. On average, the CBO reports that more than half of the faculty and staff in their organization worked remotely in the past year—a major shift for a workforce that has traditionally faced it almost entirely in person. Looking ahead, CBO expects that about a quarter of the institution’s faculty and staff will work remotely for a long time.
With such a major shift in work styles, almost all CBOs have expressed concerns about managing remote or mixed workforces, especially in terms of supporting employee well-being and sustainability in a remote work environment. Managing a successful remote workforce may also require organizations to provide effective productivity tools, find new ways to support employee engagement, and possibly modify existing human resource policies.
An important consideration in the transition to remote teaching staff is changes in student service delivery, such as orientation, advice, or mental health. The principal of a large public four-year institution pointed out that the institution “is discussing which virtual service interruptions are positive and which are harmful during the pandemic around a framework that responds to student needs.”
In order to improve efficiency and transform their business models, various institutions have shown new interest in outsourcing and cooperation, whether in traditional outsourcing fields, such as catering services or bookstores, or in new fields, such as instructional design and mental health consulting. A large number of institutions have also started or are considering establishing new public-private partnerships, especially in the development of commercial spaces.
The past 16 months have been particularly difficult for higher education institutions, but in many cases, the difficult environment provides a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to stimulate campus change. Institutions that change quickly and make difficult decisions may be in a better position after a pandemic. The key is to continue the transformation now and face the future.
Institutional leaders who can take advantage of opportunities during the pandemic are now struggling to solve the problem of how to maintain the momentum after the pandemic. As the president of a large private organization shared, “We developed a management style during the pandemic to act more flexibly and try to innovate structures, but how do we maintain this agility and speed of change without Exhausted everyone?
Maintaining an interest in strategic change is critical to moving forward, because institutions that do not seize the opportunity to transform during this period will be particularly vulnerable to future challenges.
Federal relief funds provide a bridge for the next two years or so. However, it is expected that the decline in the birth rate during and after the Great Recession will still result in a decrease in the population of high school graduates from 2025 to 2037, which means that student competition will continue.
Federal funds must have postponed the day of liquidation. Will it prompt the organization to reimagine itself in a highly competitive environment, or will it temporarily ease and resume business as usual? Time will tell us.