In early February 2020, I was in San Diego for a gathering of higher education professionals, including many chief academic officers. The first known case of COVID-19 in the U.S. had been diagnosed just a few weeks earlier, in January. While together at our conference, we contemplated the future of our industry, the changing students we are privileged to serve, our responsibilities in such a time as this, and of course, the upcoming fall elections and their impact on our campuses.
Although we worried about the virus getting ever closer, we could never have anticipated the shattering loss of life ahead, nor the lasting emotional, physical, and fiscal tolls it would exact on families, organizations, and entire communities.
Long after the pandemic ends, its effects will linger. No business operation or organization will be left unchanged. The significant demographic shifts, student preference swings, and workforce changes affecting degree-granting institutions were already spurring big changes in academia.
This global pandemic has accelerated the fires of change. Wise institutions and administrators will look to the horizon of opportunity ahead and use it as an impetus for meaningful improvements. Higher education must be prepared for at least three lasting pandemic-related changes.
A more central role for online degrees
For the past 12 years, I have worked at institutions that were leading efforts in the advancement of quality online degree programs. No matter the progress in technology and instructional design strategies, no matter the advancements articulated in industry and outcomes-oriented literature, some academic colleagues have continued to deny the legitimacy of a fully online academic degree.