“The choice, it seems to me, is this: reinvention or extinction.”
Gordon Gee, past president, Ohio State University.
COVID-19 has disrupted many aspects of higher education, including how students are recruited and admitted, where and how students are taught and how classrooms can be re-arranged to ensure safety.
Recognising that it is unwise to make predictions about the future, I nevertheless believe there are at least seven major issues that will remain after COVID-19 is no longer a major threat to human life and an economic and education disruptor.
- Vision planning which will co-exist with and complement strategic planning.
- Antiquated business models which will be replaced with differential pricing structures.
- Supply chains – Colleges and universities worldwide, especially those in countries heavily dependent on Chinese student enrolments, like Australia, Canada, New Zealand and the United States, can no longer expect Chinese students to enrol in the numbers they have for decades.
- Online learning – The lockdown of most countries worldwide and the subsequent cancelling of in-person classes by most colleges and universities for the spring 2020 semester illuminated the need for, and the wisdom of, including online instruction as part of all future educational paradigms.
- Changes in recruitment and admission practices – Across Asia and in many colleges and universities in the United States, entrance examinations have been delayed. Cancellation of SAT, ACT, TOEFL, GRE and GMAT examinations will impact future undergraduate and graduate school enrolment worldwide.
- Enrolment choices – Preliminary research reveals that specific cohorts of students, for health and safety reasons, will opt to study closer to home. According to a report published by QS, prospective Asian students may increasingly investigate intraregional universities. There is evidence that this trend is already happening. For example, Malaysia is a leading student destination in Asia for many regional students as is South Africa for students on the African continent.
- Travel – Most companies and colleges and universities have banned all non-essential travel for employees. Teleconferencing and zoom meetings have replaced long-distance travel. Faculty and administrators, going forward, will have to re-evaluate recruitment travel and attendance at academic conferences.
How students were recruited in the past, how they studied and where they studied have all been upended by the virus.
The chief innovation officer
In his book, Thank You for Being Late, New York Times columnist Tom Friedman describes the role of the chief innovation officer in the reimagined university. This is the administrator who is charged by the chief executive with chairing a school’s vision committee and who has assembled a group of administrators not usually given a seat at the table, including:
- Head of design and director of buildings and grounds, charged with reconfiguring classrooms and labs to ensure safety.
- Faculty members with expertise in consumer behaviour who can liaise with admissions recruiters and deans of admissions to identify applicants most likely to enrol based on consumer spending trends.
- A graduation counsellor (formerly known as the registrar) who has the ability to outline to accepted students the courses needed to be taken in sequence in order to graduate ‘on time’.
- A researcher with expertise in identifying trends worldwide that can impact future student recruitment and enrolment.
- A lifelong learner counsellor (formerly known as career counsellor) who is charged with creating meaningful internship opportunities and identifying future workforce needs.
- One first-year student and one graduating student.
- Members of the vision committee who can examine trends, study algorithms and scrutinise data in real time and then project how their school can implement meaningful change.
The reimagined student
Before defining the reimagined university, it is essential to define the reimagined student.
The reimagined student is one who will enrol in:
- Schools with well-established health protocols.
- Schools with a proven track record of putting students’ needs first.
- Schools closer to home.
- Schools with established gap year credit-bearing projects.
- Schools that map out a reasonable schedule for degree completion at the time of acceptance and deposit.
- Schools that assign academic, financial, registration and career counsellors at the time of acceptance and deposit.
- Schools that have matched prior extracurricular activities with similar collegiate opportunities.
- Schools with robust career counselling and internship programmes.
In the reimagined university, enrolment managers, admission deans, financial aid officers and registrars:
- Participate in the vision planning committee.
- Collaborate with researchers to identify economic, political, technological, health and societal trends that could impact future recruitment and enrolment.
- Review credentials, evaluate transcripts and accept and register students throughout the year to coincide with the revised year-long academic calendar.
- Conduct virtual recruitment and acceptance events.
The reimagined acceptance packet
- This includes information from the registrar on the sequence of courses needed to graduate in four, three or two years. It also includes a sample transcript that lists not just courses and grades, but the competencies achieved in each course.
- It includes information from the financial aid officer of estimates of how much it will cost to graduate, how much the accepted and deposited student can expect to receive in grants and bursaries and the estimated amount of student debt.
- It further includes the names and contact information of the admissions, registration, financial aid, retention, career counsellor and alumni. And includes information from the dean of students matching prior extracurricular interests with appropriate collegiate clubs and organisations.
Examples of reimagined university practices
- In a reimagined university, accepted first-year students who elect to defer enrolment for a semester or a year are assigned a credit-bearing gap year project.
- In a reimagined university, first-year students know how long it will take and how much it will cost to graduate.
- In a reimagined university, first-year students know the names of their academic, financial and career counsellors.
- In a reimagined university, admission deans and recruiters will focus on cohort marketing or enrolling groups of students from a single source and focus less on college fairs, agent referrals and single school visits.
- In a reimagined university, recruitment plans will include information from researchers and faculty with expertise in consumer behaviour.
- In a reimagined university, the chief innovation officer collaborates with the chief financial officer, admission deans and faculty to create shorter and less expensive skills-based certificate programmes.
- In a reimagined university, the chief innovation officer has identified potential degree and certificate programme partners and, in collaboration with the dean of enrolment management, academic deans and the university’s legal staff, draws up articulation and combined degree agreements.
- In a reimagined university, the president or vice-chancellor, in collaboration with the chief financial officer, has created a differential pricing plan for in-person and online teaching and has communicated that information to all current and potential students and their families. Increased tuition revenue through better retention and graduation rates have been factored into the pricing strategy to offset the reduction in tuition revenue from less classroom instruction.
- In a reimagined university, graduating students are presented, along with their diplomas, with a transcript listing each of the competencies learned in each course each semester
- In a reimagined university, graduating students have a list of all alumni contacts provided by the career counselling staff; and the registrar, in collaboration with the alumni office, contacts former students notifying them of new short-term courses and certificate programmes.
This is an outline of some of the roles and practical issues that need to be considered in the reimagined university. There are many benefits and opportunities to be grasped in an increasingly uncertain world. We need to adapt and move forward.