Colleges face a unique challenge in the present circumstances of COVID-19. Unlike K-12 institutions, colleges serve a vastly diverse student population. Some undergraduate students are within the 18-22 range and matriculated directly from high school, some are parents, some are returning to school for their degree, some call another country home. Not only do universities teach these students, they house, feed, and employ them. In return, students pay a substantial sum of money to call these institutions home. As such, the challenges of coronavirus take on new meaning for these institutions as they attempt to adapt.
One of the largest concerns many institutions have faced is the cancellation of their admitted students weekend and other admissions-related events. As the name suggests, these events are geared towards prospective students. Accepted students are able to tour the campus, attend information meetings, and sit in on classes to get a feel for the campus. These events are extremely important and are often called “yield events,” as they often increase the number of accepted students that ultimately attend that institution. According to Kelmscott Edu, “the more students visit campus, the more likely they will eventually enroll.” Due to coronavirus, many colleges have had to cancel or restructure their admissions events entirely. Even elite universities such as the University of Pennsylvania have canceled their admitted students events. These cancellations and the overall uncertainty about when the country will return to regular life will likely affect admissions at nearly every university in the nation.
These cancellations and the overall uncertainty about when the country will return to regular life will likely affect admissions at nearly every university in the nation.
In addition to those struggles, colleges are facing significant issues with their current students as well. As of March 12, EdScoop reported 300 colleges and universities across the nation that closed their doors to prevent large gatherings of people. And while these preventative measures were necessary, it created a larger issue for the many students who call the universities home. According to USA Today’s article, “US colleges scrambled to react to the coronavirus pandemic. Now their very existence is in jeopardy,” these closures could prove detrimental to many institutions. Many students are demanding a refund as they were forced to leave their college dorms to return home. Every school has responded to the request differently. Some colleges like the University of California at San Diego will offer students a full refund on their room and board. Smith College, an all-women’s liberal arts college, is prorating room and board and applying the credit to students’ accounts.
While these practices are extremely helpful for students, they put colleges in a bad place. “Every residential college and university in America relies on that auxiliary revenue stream. It is baked into the budget,” said W. Joseph King, president of Lyon College (as quoted in Inside Higher Ed’s “Coronavirus Closures Pose Refund Quandary”). For colleges like Smith, room and dining fees are about 16.5% of their budget. USA Today states that this may be a tipping point as many higher education institutions are already in the red. They state that over 30% of public and 30% of private institutions are already operating in a deficit.
…over 30% of public and 30% of private institutions are already operating in a deficit.
To make matters stickier, some parents are questioning whether or not the quality of students’ online education will be at the same caliber as their in-person education. Petitions popped up on campuses all over the country to provide tuition refunds as students will not have access to the same resources. Students on NYU and Wesleyan University’s campus have urged the administration to charge tuition fairly based on the services they will receive.
In addition to academic and housing losses, students have lost the equally important interpersonal connections they will make with advisors, mentors, and peers. These relationships help students understand who they are and how they can contribute to the world. To assist students during this time of uncertainty, The Myers- Briggs Company has announced the release of an open-access offering of their VitaNavis platform–a rapid, mobile tool for student self-discovery and exploration. The offering is designed to help post-secondary institutions drive enrollment and retention by supporting students virtually at this critical time when they are making enrollment decisions, preparing for their next semester course loads, or preparing to graduate and enter the workforce. Students will have access to the SuperStrong Assessment, exploration tools, advising insights, and a virtual advising guide. Schools can sign up here before April 30, 2020.
Coronavirus may challenge colleges to make large-scale changes. Perhaps distance learning protocol should be implemented in the event that another national emergency emerges. Perhaps they should invest in more robust learning management systems so students still feel fully supported by their university. While the answer is not always evident, it is definitely out there and we trust the leaders in academia to find it.