Carnegie Mellon University Registrar Reflects on the Future of Higher Ed in the Time of COVID (and Beyond)

July 27, 2020
Coursedog & Industry Updates

John Papinchak has been the registrar at Carnegie Mellon University for 26 years. As expected, he’s seen lots of changes to higher education. But what about now in the brave, new world of COVID? Our recent webinar, moderated by CEO Justin Wenig, featured what John had to say about how the pandemic has been a wake-up call for higher ed, and how CMU is meeting the changes and challenges.

“The thing I will say about this whole pandemic is how wonderful the collegiality has been between all our institutions, sharing information, ideas, and strategies. Collaboration is also happening with professional associations and vendors. We’re all on this crazy new journey together.” -John Papinchak, Registrar, Carnegie Mellon University

COVID and Fall Enrollments

According to John, CMU has 12 different teaching locations and campuses across the globe, each with its own challenges. “One of the things we’re seeing is that a number of students are deferring, especially our international students where they just can’t travel to the US,” he reported. “We are making remote opportunities available to them to keep them engaged even if it’s just a course or two. So, they can feel that Carnegie Mellon connection.”

As with other institutions, there are some students choosing to learn from home 100%. They want to stay engaged with CMU and don’t want to defer their educational start. After all, in many cases, the pandemic doesn’t give them opportunities to do other things. It’s not like they can travel the world to take an advantage of a gap year. “They are taking some classes, either full or part time,” John shared. “We are creating a hybrid instructional model, so students can make the best choices for themselves.”

Certainly, the pandemic is affecting all our schools, with all of us losing students to other places, and John hopes that the net sum of everything is that students will take advantage of their college experiences, some of it just closer to home or online. “I think a lot of our first-year students are embracing the changes,” he opined. “They are a hearty generation.”

Change is the New Normal (But Look for the Silver Lining)

Scott Galloway is right in some ways, according to John. This is going to be a wakeup call for higher ed because change is the new normal. “It’s going to help higher ed come into the 21st century when we think about how we are adapting, becoming more flexible in our instruction, and improving the student experience,” he said. “How many of us adapted our spring grading policies on a dime? I think that’s been good for higher education.”

John also believes that there are some good silver linings in all of this that can help us with the things that we want to do to help improve our institutions, not just the same old thing. The other part is that students are looking for the experience, thinking about how instruction delivery will be different, and how that will meet their needs

Staying Ahead of the Curve

Fortunately for John, his senior administration pulled his office in from the very beginning and are now paying more attention to the things that office does. Part of it, he says, is educating senior leadership and sharing that information. While the registrar’s office kept heads down and quietly made things happen in the past, today they are collaborating with provosts, deans, department heads, and administrators on projects like decentralizing the scheduling process. “We are bridging those communication gaps, listening, and coming up with strategies,” he shared.

Evolving Roles

Where do we go from here? Another silver lining for John is that it’s gotten him out of a lot of the day-to-day office activities and allowed him to be more strategically focused. At the same time, it’s allowed his staff to grow into some new roles. CMU staff and leadership are thinking about the variables and alternatives and how they are going to inculcate them into their systems.

Regarding the purpose of higher ed in general, John believes it’s going to shift, expanding the creation and dissemination knowledge and research. “Perhaps the change will come in how mission and vision relate to the student experience, and how we tie those experiences together,” suggested John. “Do we all have to teach calculus? How can we better utilize faculty and partner institutions to provide a better foundation for students? In short, how do we do the things that we do best?”

How Coursedog Can Help

As part of the webinar, Justin shared how Coursedog has been partnering with institutions to help with the pressing need to reoptimize course and space scheduling. (As John says, technology is an enabler that should continue to be embraced on campuses. It takes the wild and crazy ideas from faculty and makes them work!)

While a lot of schools are on pause for looking at new software and technology right now, according to Justin. In the long term, he predicts that technology adoption will increase quite a bit. “We need tools that are flexible and agile to help get work done faster, geared at solving these 21st century problems,” he explained. “Picking the right technology to support integrations and be flexible will give schools a competitive advantage.”

For schools this fall (and later next spring) Coursedog will upload flat files directly from their student information systems and provide them with a host of analytics to help them think about rearranging schedules and reoptimizing certain pockets where there are significant bottlenecks (like too many students enrolled in a class or in a building).

What’s more, Coursedog will provide free analyses of your schedule and has done so for 70+ institutions so far, even sharing data on what other schools are doing. “While we offer a comprehensive scheduling, curriculum, catalog, and event planning platform, the best thing we can help with in times of challenge and change is rearranging and reoptimizing college scheduling,” concluded Justin.

Learn More

View the webinar recording to hear more from John and Justin.

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