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Mapping Out the Post-Pandemic New Normal

The EvoLLLution | Mapping Out the Post-Pandemic New Normal
Adjusting to the mitigation tactics required for COVID-19 has been challenging, but changing gears to adapt to a new reality might be even harder for colleges and universities.

COVID-19 brought American life to a screeching halt– in March, no less. A nail-biting month for admissions offices became a hair-pulling one. Predictive enrollment models disintegrated overnight.

As we stand at the precipice of a recession, now is the time for higher education professionals to look at their strategies, see what elements still make sense and what new challenges they will need to tackle.

Recessions are historically peak enrollment periods for colleges and universities, as people look to “skill up” during the economic lull. But there has never been a recession like the one upon us. The modern world has never been knocked off its axis to such an extent. The past will not provide us with a precedent.

We still don’t know what the other side of this pandemic will look like, but a few realities are starting to settle in: COVID-19 will change the way we travel, the way we spend and the way we internet.

There is no playbook for reacting to this crisis, and any projections are just that—projections. But humans are being rewired by this very moment. The world that will emerge from the pandemic will be filled with both fresh perspectives and anxiety.

With smart planning, programming and marketing, there will be opportunities for colleges and universities to address societal shifts and keep enrollments strong.

Here are several post-pandemic projections to ponder:

The map will shrink

Harris poll data suggests there will be a longer-tail effect before people feel comfortable traveling again. And when they do, they might not want to stray far from their home bases. For colleges and universities, this could mean that students may not travel far to attend school for the foreseeable future.

A reluctance to attend schools far from home would be most negatively felt at colleges and universities in the Northeast and the Rust Belt, where declines in traditional college-age populations are predicted to exceed 5% in the next five years.

Changing or expanding the areas from where your school recruits will be challenging. International students may become tougher to attract. Border hawks are already using this pandemic to bottle up the immigration queue.

COVID-19 will almost surely impact global supply chains that were already fraying from tariff wars. Companies and consumers will place greater value on anything and everything local, and this mindset will seep into college selections. For colleges and universities looking to pull students onto campus, owning your backyard will become even more imperative.

Robust online portfolios will be critical

Shelter-in-place resolutions forced many to work, shop, play and learn online. We are finding new ways to connect and new entry points to learning. An entire generation of incoming college students will have experience with, and possibly a preference for, online learning. These students will seek out an education that allows them to maintain the work-life balance online programs offer. Robust online programs will become core components of many schools’ academic portfolios.

Cleanliness will be a differentiator

More and more colleges and universities will promote their commitments to sustainability, sanitation and overall cleanliness. Campus safety and livability has always been a concern for parents and students alike, but now the question will be reframed: How healthy is my campus?

Companies will want digital competencies and human skills

The post-COVID-19 world will see some traditional industries contract. Emerging digital industries will rise. But an increased emphasis will be placed on soft skills as well, with connection, communication, and adaptability being sought after. Companies will be looking for a foundation of non-automation human skills to pair with digital savvy.

The gig economy may be transformed

COVID-19 might reshuffle the gig worker paradigm. Food delivery workers have been surging while rideshare companies have suffered. These companies typically eschew worker benefits and protections, a slight that becomes exposed during a recession. Will some of these workers seek out higher education to provide themselves with pathways to a more secure future?


Editor’s note: This article was submitted on April 13, 2020. 

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