February 22, 2021 |
The ongoing economic, social and mental health impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic are only now beginning to be fully understood, but the impact on public colleges and universities is still relatively unknown. Yet these institutions play a vital role in recovering from this global crisis.
Higher education leaders have been forced to explore decades or even centuries-old ways of doing business, and the spotlight on these practices and approaches has exposed the rigidity of many public colleges and universities. When the spread of the COVID-19 virus began to increase in late March 2020 and governors across the country began closing businesses and schools, higher education was underdeveloped and unprepared for a virtual world.
To aid enrollment and ease the transition, universities tried to offset the effects of travel restrictions, closed offices and unpredictable health assignments by going back to basics and using the phones as one of the few viable strategies to recruit students, too. advise and involve otherwise.
Despite these efforts, enrollment in public colleges and universities across the country fell by 4%, and New Mexico was hit particularly hard with a workforce decline of 9.5%. Across the board, this decline is attributed to the varied effects of the pandemic, again underscoring the need for higher education to respond more flexibly to and adapt to the environment.
The fundamental question that colleges and universities must answer revolves around defining what post-pandemic education and training will be like. Traditional institutions that are slow to change may be forced to face the grim reality of not only declining enrollment, but also the loss of teachers and the inability to keep their doors open. Institutions must be willing to think big and let go of traditional business models – from the way we admit new students to the means of delivery for both graduate students and students in training programs.
Investing in on-campus technology infrastructure is critical to ensuring that students and faculty can communicate and provide information using online tools, but for states like New Mexico, this won't be enough. University leaders should work as advocates for their communities in broadening Internet access, especially in disadvantaged rural areas where education and training could be out of reach for many due to poor access.
With an emphasis on broadening and strengthening technology resources to support robust online learning, it's important to note that student life will continue on campuses. For many communities, these campuses act as the cultural, social and intellectual hubs of their region, supporting not only traditional learning, but also advanced research, adult education and staff training.
With all the challenges facing higher education across the country, there is positive news that, despite the hardships moving from the classroom to a fully online degree, students and their instructors have found ways to adapt and succeed . While polls show that enthusiasm for education has not waned, it could be if innovative strategies for student and community engagement are not applied.
Finally, this current environment has shown that recovery will be a concerted effort. Colleges and universities must strengthen partnerships and advance our society, taking into account the emerging needs of our post-pandemic world.
Dr. Isaac Brundage has worked in higher education for more than 20 years. He is currently the vice president of student affairs and enrollment management at Western New Mexico University.