As an educator, I have always believed in the importance of education and the ability of schools to survive, grow, and benefit society.  But that was before the COVID of 2020 destroyed the status quo and threatened the survival of our most important social and political systems. 

Education, and the higher education college system, is being crushed by the unforeseen consequences of the pandemic.  Based on the history of past pandemics, when the pathogen passes, our society and systems will probably emerge greatly changed and much different than what we’re used to.  Will your college emerge unchanged?  I doubt it.  Will your college close?  Experts are predicting that upwards of one-quarter of the 5,300 post-secondary schools will close and not reopen.  Here are a few critical questions to assess the facts and arrive at an answer for yourself. 

1.Is your college a public, State-supported institution?   

A “yes” answer could be promising for reopening.  Why?  Because the State has the power of taxation and the government’s infrastructure and systems to ensure they continue to operate; albeit, changed, but alive; maybe, with smaller class sizes and/or a hybrid of the classroom/online model; maybe, offering fewer degree programs and options. 

2.Is your college a private institution with a strong reputation, a recognized brand name, a significant endowment (lots of money), and a freshman acceptance rate of 20% or less?    

This is another “yes” for survival, since survival depends on enrollments and cash flow to meet expenses. 

3.Is your college rather small, with enrollments less than 1,000 and an admissions rate above 80% (accepting almost all who apply), with negligible money in the bank, living predominantly hand-to-mouth on student tuition, with a costly campus and facilities to support, and a large faculty to pay?   

The bad news for this college, and YOU, is the fixed overhead of campus, buildings, staffing, up-keep, and traditional academic faculty wedded to the expensive classroom model.   

In my considered opinion, based on fifty-plus years of experience in the education sector, I believe the majority of closures will be among the campus/classroom (aka bricks and mortar) schools based on the traditional college and vocational teaching model, many of which will try (sadly, too late and with too little) to go online to attract students and earn tuition.  Not all vocational programs are transferable to online delivery; these will surely be victims. 

I suspect that the survivors will be the successful schools with at least a couple of decades of ONLINE experience, not the Johnny-come-lately hybrid of on-campus/online combo schools; in my opinion, it’s either-or.  Why?  Because, for the most part, traditional classroom faculty don’t believe in the validity of online learning, so they refuse to do it, arguing that it does not provide true academic experiences because it lacks the classroom dynamics they believe is required for learning.  Of course, there are some instructors/professors who will give it a try, but it isn’t enough to stand in front of a video camera and lecture to an absent room.  In point of fact, there is a major philosophical difference (conflict, might be a better word for some disbelievers) between the two approaches.  Smaller campus colleges are experiencing resistance from entrenched academicians, even to the death of their schools, even to the death of long and rewarding careers.  My brother, a full-tenured professor at a well-regarded university in NY, retired rather than give up his classroom and “academic professionalism.” These schools are the “walking wounded” that are barely viable. 

There is hope!  I believe the survivors will be those schools that can adapt to the new realities: avoid crowds, avoid direct contact between students and faculty, provide courses and faculty/student interactions and dynamics that have been developed for the online model.  What does the online model encourage, you ask? 

  1. “Anytime-learning,” with flexible start-dates and end-dates. 
  2. Active self-learning; no lectures, no regurgitating facts on tests; practical applications taught. 
  3. No time-designated courses (e.g., 12-weeks of required participation/attendance).  This is a barrier and an inhibitor of learning and slows progress. 
  4. No marking on curves and grade distributions that hinder individual performance. 
  5. No traditional, classroom-teacher-centered process, but rather a student-centric process. 
  6. An openness to addressing the crisis of schools closing and leaving students without the needed degrees and with plenty of student debt (e.g., accepting 90 credits in transfer at the undergrad level).  

This is the not-so-new dynamic employed by experienced online colleges for decades; this is the delivery system that can ensure the survival of a college.  Of even greater importance, with lower expenses and lower tuition, with an infrastructure that is designed to support an online delivery system, the student can continue to pursue dreams, goals, and careers, without missing a beat.   

If the pandemic has even one redeeming benefit, it might be that new educational models will emerge, be tested, and adopted, all to the benefit of the student.   

The old saying, “Necessity is the mother of invention,” couldn’t be more true than it is right now. Given a chance, online will grow up as the desired model, much to the benefit of the student.  CalSouthern doesn’t have to invent or reinvent itself, we were one of the creators of the online model.  In fact, we have been “doing” online for 42 years, since 1978.  We are experienced, compassionate, and have an openness to meeting our students’ academic needs; we are ready to help.  

Dr, Donald Hecht, Founder, California Southern University. 
“CalSouthern Does Online Better”© 

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