How COVID-19 Will Change Higher Education

April 06, 2020

Social distancing as a response to the COVID-19 health risk has generated extensive online interaction and learning. Miami Herbert Professor Dhananjay Nanda calls the pandemic that has compelled such an expansive societal response a once in a lifetime event, but one that will likely leave a lasting impact on higher education.

Vulnerabilities in Higher Education
For hundreds of years, the format of higher education has remained unchanged. A university consists of many buildings, parking areas, administrative services, residential dormitories, and student organizations – all ancillary components that consume a great amount of resources. The business model has high operating leverage, such as fixed costs, and dedicated assets resulting in an educational system lacking in adaptability and resilience.

The Rise of Online Learning
The pandemic will fundamentally alter higher education, beginning with the abrupt expansion of online learning. Many faculty members are already adjusting to a previously unfamiliar format. Yet a more permanent transition to an online educational system, resulting in fewer students on campus, will force university management teams to contend with facilities and complex infrastructures that are not scalable. Also, educational offerings will change over the next decade according to an increase or decrease in demand for certain disciplines. Management will need to demonstrate flexibility and adaptability in adjusting and deploying resources.

An Optimistic Outlook
The pandemic has exposed higher education’s weaknesses amid changing circumstances. The universities that will surmount challenges will prove capable of developing systems that are more resilient and adaptable. The most critical capital, one that does not appear in accounting statements, consists of faculty expertise. The University of Miami’s strength in this soft capital allows for an optimistic outlook. Leadership must simply deploy, leverage, and deliver its strongest asset for a continued positive student experience.  

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