Re-invent Your Institution for Success in an Uncertain Economy Series

By Kim Cliett Long, Ed.D.

Part 1: Lessons Learned During COVID-19

As the COVID-19 pandemic outbreak has expanded across the United States, it became increasingly apparent that institutional closures were imminent. Even campuses that didn’t have active cases of the virus shut down their in-person classes as the virus spread across the country.

Early closures included larger universities such as Duke, Georgetown and George Washington Universities; the University of Virginia; the University of Michigan; the University of Notre Dame and others announced they would move to online instruction.

The larger and better resourced institutions were able to shift quickly to remote instruction because many were already experienced online education providers. They also had established emergency operational and academic continuity plans in place. (Don’t worry: We will provide a plan for success for smaller institutions in part three of the series!) Even with these plans in place, it will be hard to replicate the in-class experience of certain courses such as those requiring the use of specialized tools like laser cutters for mechanical engineering that most students wouldn’t have at home or be able to easily access.

Other considerations include accessibility for special needs and certain lab classes. If these considerations are a challenge for better resourced institutions, what then will happen for smaller institutions that lack funding and resources? What will happen to minority serving institutions, including Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs), Hispanic Serving Institutions (HSIs) and Native Serving Institutions (NSIs) that operate on shoe-string budgets?

These institutions do not have the benefit of fully staffed divisions for distance/eLearning. Also, many of these institutions lack fully functioning online education programs and many do not have established emergency operational or academic continuity plans, especially in the case of immediate closures.

Some of the lessons learned to date while responding to this emergency pandemic outbreak are the following:

  1. Smaller, less resourced institutions are extremely vulnerable to events such as natural disasters and national and global health emergencies.
  2. These institutions need concrete emergency contingency plans in place to be able to respond appropriately and quickly. These plans should be re-evaluated and tested against a variety of scenarios on a regular basis. Plan weaknesses should be identified and addressed.
  3. Institutions need emergency funds to be able to assist their students who often lack the resources to enable them to be able to travel to their homes in an emergency situation. Further, considerations must be made for international students, those with undesirable or unsafe home situations, or students with no place to call home other than school.
  4. Managing a remote workforce without technical and software considerations compromises productivity and accountability. School systems may also be put at risk if appropriate cybersecurity software and procedures are not in place before employees connect remotely.
  5. Considerations such as complying with Federal Financial Aid and accreditation regulations, even with relaxed standards, can be difficult to navigate in an emergency. Institutions should be working to upgrade online learning now and considering the impact of these regulations, so they do not run into accreditation issues down the road.
  6. The need to issue student refunds for the term could prove to be financially crippling for these institutions.

In Part 2, we will discuss how the post-COVID-19 landscape might look for higher education institutions.

About the Author

Dr. Kim Cliett Long has an impressive history of success in higher education with a special emphasis on Distance Learning. She is the CEO of Organizational Concepts/Adult Learners NOW and the Executive VP of Academic Affairs and Strategic Affairs for Military Learners Now, LLC.

Dr. Long consults with colleges and universities in the areas of Distance Learning, faculty development, and strategies for increasing adult enrollments. Dr. Long also continues hands-on work with contemporary students by teaching online for several universities.

Dr. Long earned her terminal degree from Northcentral University. Among her many educational certifications, she is certified in Distance Education by the University of West Georgia, faculty development and working with adult learners through L.E.R.N. Dr. Long can be reached at klong@militarylearnersnow.com.