Coronavirus and Higher Education
Updated June 12, 2020.
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The novel coronavirus and the resulting disease COVID-19 have disrupted everything and everyone, both across the U.S. and around the world. To keep this virus from spreading, the CDC and governments at all levels have encouraged “social distancing,” leading to the widespread cancellation of events and closure of non-essential businesses. As a result, the campuses of most higher education institutions have been closed, and students have been sent home or told not to return from spring break. Institutions are now forced to move classes online, requiring crash courses for faculty in both remote teaching and online curriculum development to prepare them for emergency online teaching.
Higher Digital’s clients include 3 of the top 10 online education institutions in the United States. We are intimately familiar with the requirements of standing up distance learning programs. While these clients may have a head start, every size and type of institution is struggling to convert to an almost fully remote workforce.
Larger institutions often have the staffing and resources to shift gears without the degree of disruption faced by smaller schools, where already stretched IT staffs and budgets can be easily overwhelmed by the challenge.
But private institutions, large and small, could face a serious cash crunch as this crisis drags on.
At the same time, the massive, $2 trillion stimulus package approved in late March includes $13.95 billion in funding for colleges and universities, to be distributed by the Department of Education, with at least half to go directly to students, but a fair amount of flexibility in general. The formula allocating funds among universities is still to be determined, but will be based largely on how many of the neediest students they serve.
Depending on a school’s culture, its faculty or academic staff fall somewhere along the spectrum of resistance to/acceptance of online education. Now that they are faced with a mandate to deliver their courses to suddenly remote students (at least in the short term), they must catch up quickly.
There are thorny challenges common to any online learning operation, from replicating hands-on lab work, to concerns about the proctoring of exams—or academic integrity in general.
Schools that haven’t yet begun the transition may feel justifiably lost, or even paralyzed, as they try to turn on a dime.
But every type of educational institution needs to ensure that it doesn’t disadvantage students who lack:
- access to the required technology;
- adequate financial support;
- a safe and stable environment;
- or even continuing student visa eligibility.
On top of those challenges is Zoom, the go-to platform many educators have been using to conduct real time virtual classes, meetings, or office hours, and which has struggled with everything from privacy and security deficiencies to a lack of transparency about these very issues.
They seem to have just turned things around, but be careful out there.
Another dilemma facing institutions is the groundswell of support for converting spring semester marks from letter grades to pass/fail, either as an option or across the board. There are both organizational and reporting/admissions challenges, but there may also be technical hurdles to switching their LMS/VLE or academic records systems from one to the other in the middle of a semester or marking period.
Finally, the Department of Education has posted reminders of the obligations of schools at all levels to both provide accessibility and reasonable accommodations to disabled students, and continue to respect privacy in compliance with FERPA requirements.
Higher Digital realizes that in the short term, our direct assistance will primarily be limited to existing clients, but we want to help institutions generally however we can. Please contact us if you have any questions at firstname.lastname@example.org.