This month Coursetune is excited to welcome guest-author Terri E. Givens to the blog. Terri is CEO and Founder of Brighter Higher Ed. Terri is a political scientist and author. Her most recent book, Radical Empathy: Finding a Path to Bridging Racial Divides, will be published in February of 2021. Her personal website is at www.terrigivens.com.
As we near the end of our first year of working through the challenges of educating students in the middle of a pandemic, it is good to take a step back and try to understand the impacts from the perspective of a SWOT analysis. Higher education was particularly vulnerable as the pandemic hit last spring. Many residential campuses had to send students home and have faculty quickly learn how to offer their courses online. Since then, most campuses have adapted relatively well, but there is much more work to do.
Although the media tends to focus on large institutions that have struggled with outbreaks, most higher education institutions have managed the transition. Faculty have adapted to teaching online and hybrid courses. Enrollment hasn’t declined as much as many forecasted in the spring.
Although most campuses have embraced remote teaching, many faculty members struggle as they transition, and many have their own children at home that they also have to manage. This situation has a disproportionate impact on women, who are having difficulty maintaining research, as indicated in a large research study cited in Inside Higher Ed. Academic leaders from department chairs to presidents will need to address these issues and take innovative approaches to address the impact on women faculty and faculty of color who have been impacted disproportionately by COVID and the events of the past summer with the murder of George Floyd and subsequent protests.
It is not a time to sit back to see what will happen in the Spring. Effective leaders should be planning for the next few years, adopting new technologies and innovative practices that will put them in a position to lead in the coming years. Although the pandemic is an existential threat for many institutions, it’s also an opportunity to focus on teaching and learning in a way that many institutions haven’t done in the past. There are many examples of best practices out there, including the work being done by Arizona State University, Southern New Hampshire University, and many others. Great leaders will use agility to create lasting change and a more student-focused institution.
The greatest threat to higher ed right now is the opposite of the opportunities I just described. It’s trying to return to the status quo and avoiding change. What started as a crisis will end as a change to how we do things in higher ed. There will be institutions that will not survive this crisis, and those that do must be prepared to reach out, collaborate, and make the cuts necessary to survive while still providing value to students. I have written regularly about the need for collaboration in higher ed, and I have been preaching the gospel of alliance and mergers since last spring. I would love to see small colleges, in particular, survive this pandemic and come out of it even stronger.