How COVID-19 Changed Higher Education

In Brief:

  • Many institutions have been asking how COVID-19 will impact enrollment numbers – though the answer tends to rely on a number of factors, our survey respondents have actually seen fairly positive results.
  • Institutions had to change rapidly in early 2020, but there was still a lot of work to do before re-launching in the fall.
  • It’s one of the most common questions in higher education: What do classes look like in the near future?

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Author: Nelnet Campus Commerce

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COVID-19 has changed the way higher education operates. Earlier this year, we surveyed a number of our partners to find out how exactly the experience has shifted, and how they’re preparing for the future. Here’s a high-level look at the results.

Where Teams Are Working

In March, many institutions temporarily shut down – others quickly transitioned to online learning and working. For the most part, that hasn’t changed much. 64% of institutions said that their teams are working full-time from home, with about 26% working at home for only part of the week. Only 9.71% of respondents reported that their teams were working entirely in the office.

Is Discounted Tuition an Option?

Discounted tuition has been floated as a potential solution for many institution’s enrollment efforts, but some have questioned how effective the discount would actually be. It hasn’t been an option that gained traction for our survey respondents, either. 91.3% didn’t discount Summer 2020 tuition and 80% didn’t plan to offer a discount for the fall semester. Given the responses to our next few questions, those results aren’t terribly surprising.

Summer 2020 Enrollment

Many institutions have been asking how COVID-19 will impact enrollment numbers – though the answer tends to rely on a number of factors, our survey respondents have actually seen fairly positive results. For the 2020 summer semester, 46.77% reported an enrollment similar to Summer 2019. What’s even more interesting is that 24.19% actually reported an increase from that period.

Though most saw unchanging or positive results, there were a number of institutions that reported a decrease – 9.68% saw a decrease of less than 5%, while 14.52% saw a decrease of 5-10%.

Expected Fall 2020 Enrollment

Many respondents didn’t expect to see much of a change – 37.88% expected enrollment to remain steady in the fall. That said, 21.21% still expected to see a decrease of up to 5%, while 19.7% expected to see a decrease of up to 10%.

Plans to Adapt

Institutions had to change rapidly in early 2020, but there was still a lot of work to do before re-launching in the fall. When asked how survey respondents expected to adapt for the fall semester, 57.14% said they would limit class sizes, 41.79% said they would limit residence hall capacity, 45.59% said they would limit dining hall and food service capacity.

In-Person vs. Online Education

It’s one of the most common questions in higher education: What do classes look like in the near future? The answers from our survey fall in line with what we’ve heard in discussions with other partners. 37.93% plan to offer students their choice of online and in-person learning. Other institutions weren’t necessarily planning to offer a student choice model, but did plan to offer other hybrid versions of learning. Most of these alternate plans included splitting traditionally in-person classes to half online, starting and ending semesters earlier, and offering in-person courses on a strictly as-needed basis.

Concern 1: Budget

We also asked survey respondents to rank a series of common concerns based on a one to five scale. One represented a relatively small concern, while five represented a larger issue. Unsurprisingly, budget and financial impacts were one of the biggest concerns for institutions. 59.15% reported that budget were one of the most major challenges.

Concern 2: Course Delivery

Course delivery ranked relatively high – 28.17% of respondents ranked this a five, while 33.8% ranked it a four. It seems to be that the method of course delivery is still a looming issue, but could be one that institutions feel more confident in solving.

Concern 3: Workforce Issues

Arguably the biggest elephant in the room is the impact that COVID-19 had on higher education employees. Many were furloughed or laid off – creating the potential for lower qualities of service in certain departments. 21.43% reported course delivery issues as a major concern – but it was fairly split across the board.

Concern 4: Working From Home

Working from home was a big adjustment – and it was one institutions need to make carefully in order to continue providing quality service to students and staff. By now, however, it seems staff have generally become more efficient from home. Only 11.27% ranked it as a five, while 28.17 percent ranked it as a four. It still seems to be something institutions are keeping an eye on, but feel more confident in the switch than they may have in March.

Concern 5: Addressing Out-of-State Students

For institutions with a high population of international or out-of-state students, COVID-19 presented an especially unique set of challenges. 24.29% ranked this issue as a five, while 35.71% ranked it as a four.

Concern 6: Administering CARES Act Funds

Interestingly enough, this was an issue that wasn’t particularly viewed as a major challenge. Only 10% ranked it as a five – the rest hovered around 20-30%. (By the way, if you’re one of the people/institutions that would rank it as a five, here’s a list of resources that can help.)