Higher-Ed post-COVID


July 27, 2020


Jordan Kindler


Class Scheduling

If you’re an administrator in higher-ed, you’ve wondered with latent trepidation what the future of the industry will look like when all things COVID are said and done. Reading Scott Galloway’s thoughts on the matter, scattered across an interview with New York’s “Intelligencier and his own video series No Mercy, No Malice on Vice probably hasn’t helped.

Galloway predicts an impending upheaval. In a fairly scathing indictment of colleges and universities across the country, which Galloway himself dubs The Rant: The College Implosion, he suggests that COVID has degraded the value of education, and that the future of higher-ed will resemble an oligopolistic market of tech-minded institutions.

Colleges have become luxury brands, as universities are adopting a strategy of artificial scarcity to create irrational margins…

We sat down with John Papinchak, University Registrar at Carnegie Mellon University, to discuss the topic, to assess what COVID means for Registrars, scheduling, and higher-ed writ large, and to walk through the ways Coursedog has been able to help our partner institutions.

How can we expect COVID to affect enrollments this Fall, and how might the answer change for different types of schools across the country?

Enrollments across the board are going to decrease, of course. At Carnegie Mellon, there are certainly a number of students deferring, especially international students, to whom remote learning opportunities have been made available.

Yet, there are also a fair number of students choosing to study completely at home. They’re electing to remain engaged with their universities, as many are hesitant to defer their educational start or to put their ongoing degree progress on hold. It’s important to remember that in many, and perhaps most, cases, deferral doesn’t necessarily provide students with any meaningful alternative; it’s not as though students can wander abroad or even find jobs at home with the world on halt. In many instances, going back to school, even if remotely, is a totally viable option and one that a majority of learners are taking. Not to mention that on some campuses those who elect to take a gap year may risk their access to on-campus housing upon their return.

It’s important to remember that in many, and perhaps most, cases, deferral doesn’t necessarily provide students with any meaningful alternative.

For students committed to continuing their education, switching schools for the coming semester(s) has been another relatively common route; “we’re all losing students to other places. What I’m hoping, and what we’re hearing from a lot of students, is that if they’re not going to Carnegie Mellon, they’re going somewhere else, so I’m hoping the net sum of everything is that students are still going to be taking advantage of their college experiences, albeit some of it closer to home or virtually,” John shared.

In this way, changes to enrollment and to Higher-Ed as a whole don’t necessarily have to be a zero-sum-game; to the contrary, the industry can transform, at least temporarily, all while preserving its basic commitment to serving students. That is, students as a whole may still be able to bear the fruits of education even while certain academic institutions face headwinds.

It’s feasible that local community and technical colleges, thought to be perhaps the most vulnerable amid the ongoing pandemic, may see disproportionate increases in enrollment with larger populations of students electing to study closer to home.

What is the New Normal?

In some ways, Scott Galloway is right. Things are certainly going to change. The New Normal will be defined by the normalization of constant change. Schools must remain ahead of the tide, and willing to exist alongside it.

John suggested that COVID is forcing Higher Ed to come into the 21st century, something it has yet to do and for which it has been critiqued. How do we become flexible in instruction and in the experience we afford our students? We can’t afford for faculty committees to go off and study something for a few semesters, or often longer, to make a change. “How many of us adapted grading policies on a dime this Spring?” John reflected. “There have been some great silver linings to all of this, silver linings that can help us with the things we want to do to improve our institutions and not just do what’s comfortable or familiar.”

We propose that another underlying, long-term change will be a substantial increase in technology adoption. Schools will need flexible, agile tools to get their work done faster as administrative problems become increasingly complicated and more of-the-times. Picking the right technologies, then, will put schools at a competitive advantage in an environment where students wield exceedingly more power in the process of selecting a school.

If I’m a Higher-Ed admin right now, what should I do to to remain ahead of the curve amid all this change?

Make sure that Registrars are looped into the decision-making process. Registrars are the folks who get things done on and across campus. As such, they’ve garnered an absolutely invaluable repertoire of knowledge and experience that can be leveraged in conjunction with other university leaders. For registrars reading this, make senior leadership aware of what challenges you’re facing, which ones you can manage, and with which you need support; you’ll be better positioned to be afforded resources when and where you need them.

Ask questions relentlessly and be unprecedentedly creative. Administrators, and registrars in particular, need to be as present in the planning process as ever. Engage your faculty and push yourself to ask the tough questions; you’ll better understand the needs of all stakeholders and can navigate accordingly.

Be honest about what your technology can and cannot do. COVID has presented fundamentally new problems for administration in Higher-Ed. The reality is that much of our technology has not been designed to accommodate these novel use cases, so don’t waste time forcing it do so if the fit isn’t there. Pursue new avenues where appropriate, and call on the support of leadership when necessary.

Lastly, leverage the higher-ed network and bridge internal communication gaps. One of the amazing things about the pandemic, if there can be said to be one, is the outpouring of support and

How will (how has) the Registrar’s role change(d)?

A major silver lining to all the turmoil is that registrars are more strategically focused and less bogged down in the day-to-day than they ever have been. Staff are growing, and have very much had to grow, into new roles that would have otherwise been entirely foreign or inaccessible to them, which has been great for the development of the office as a whole. In this way, the new environment has presented the Registrar’s Office with a tremendous opportunity for growth and innovation.

Registrar’s can (and will be) be more involved in the process of instructional design. As schools continue to work through the complexities and intricacies of accommodating typically contact-intensive pedagogies, Registrars will find themselves at the center of a conversation from which they had been largely absent. For example, classes like labs or workshops involving group work may become rotational, John suggested. Thea University Registrar will be best poised to posit unique, innovative solutions to ensure that all areas of study can continue meaningfully.

How Coursedog Can Help

Research & Findings

In many cases, we’ve found that while deal volume has decreased as a whole, the velocity with which deals and conversations with schools take place is accelerating rapidly. Schools are struggling to create hybrid schedules, to enforce social distancing rules on a per room basis, and to manage the seeming irreversibility of registration for the fall already having taken place.

For those able, finding and implementing a solution that can empower schools to adapt, particularly in a remote environment, has become an urgent priority.

Analytics & Development

One thing that we’ve done to assist our existing partners in the process of planning for the fall is uploading flat files from their student information systems in order to provide them with a host of analytics on alternative scenarios to help them reorganize the schedule and in some cases identify pockets of the schedule where re-optimization may be appropriate.

We’re willing to do this for free for any school that’s interested. Contact us at sales@coursedog.com.

We’ve also been quick to roll out new features like enrollment heat maps and automatically-enforceable social distancing rules based on standard or alternative classroom capacities, so that our schools can both be cognizant of potential hot spots in the schedule, and then take action to alleviate them.

Re-Optimization of Times & Rooms to Spread the Schedule

We’re working with schools to run re-optimization algorithms of both times and rooms of standing schedules given the complicated guidelines and crunches for space that in many cases are impeding on margins.

Doing so has allowed schools to maximize space and spread the schedule in such a way so as to create and share more scenarios with leadership; we’re giving Higher-Ed flexibility and agility to facilitate either room or time re-optimization in a moment’s notice so that folks have the tools and information they need to make the most well-reasoned decision(s).

Curious to hear how we can help your institution? Book a demo today.

What You Will Learn