How Publishing is Doubling Down on Relationships

April 11, 2020
Digital media subscriptions; Subscription resiliency; and DTC business strategies
How Publishing is Doubling Down on RelationshipsAcross the board, digital media companies have seen a sharp spike in engagement and subscriptions over the past month, and traffic to local news sites has gone through the roof. We’ve seen it in our own numbers — Zuora’s digital media vertical has tripled its compound annual growth rate in just one month.

At the same time, the digital media industry is still heavily reliant on advertising, which is always the first budget to get axed during a recession. Even with the traffic boost, primarily ad-driven media sites like Vice and Group 9 are getting absolutely hammered. To add to the pain, Walmart and Amazon are already pulling out of commerce marketing deals with sites like Buzzfeed and Vox. We are clearly at the beginning of a huge wave of consolidation in media, and a subscription strategy is going to be absolutely crucial for sites that want to stay standing on the other side of this crisis.

This week we spoke with a digital media leader who is currently navigating the dynamic between subscription and advertising revenue. James Heckman is the CEO of Maven, a digital content publishing platform that currently supports over 300 publishers, including A&E’s History, Ski Magazine, Jim Cramer’s TheStreet, and Sports Illustrated (yes, that Sports Illustrated!). Full disclosure: Zuora manages subscriptions at TheStreet.

Thanks for taking the time, James. It’s a really weird time in digital media right now — usage is through the roof, but advertising is in free fall. Can you talk about what you are seeing?

Fortunately, it’s not a bad time to be a digital media company with a subscription model in place; we seem to be converting much of the new traffic into recurring revenue. TheStreet is up 100% in year-over-year traffic, as well as new subscription sales. Media investors are concerned in general about their investments and were certainly alarmed at the elimination of sports, but Sports Illustrated subscription sales remained steady, and traffic as well, which gives us a nice bed of monthly recurring revenue to count on. So we’re doubling down on subscription revenue.

Of course when the crisis came, we anticipated overall digital advertising and event sponsorship revenue would drop, at least 40 percent, so we reduced our sales team accordingly and made other staffing adjustments. It was pretty straightforward because we had a pretty good idea of where and how much revenue would be affected. The benefit of being an infrastructure and technology platform as opposed to a pure media company is that you can scale up or down quickly and so we believe our cuts will keep EBITDA+ for the year.

In terms of digital media in general, we’re all hearing about how the national brands are doing really well right now. The Atlantic picked up 36,000 new subscribers last month, which is basically unheard of. But if you’re not the Washington Post, how should you be thinking about a paywall strategy?

Hard paywalls make sense for big national brands: The New York TimesThe Wall Street Journal, Netflix. The value proposition is obvious to a consumer because they already know the product. I will sign up for these services without needing to be sold. I know on the other side of that Netflix sign-up page, there are a million things to watch. But for smaller publications, a hard paywall could risk the entire enterprise. It’s like asking someone to marry you on the first date.

Selling media subscriptions comes down to a pretty basic formula: X times Y equals Z. X is your total addressable audience (and the number of times you get to address that audience), Y is your conversion rate, and Z is net new subscriptions. And guess what? When it comes to Y, anything above a one percent conversion rate is off the chart, so you need to focus on that X number. You need to grow engagement, if you want to grow your subscription base and blocking access isn’t going to get that done. We specialize in making sign-ups as simple as possible, but it’s still a tough ask, particularly considering that most people are consuming media on their phones. So, after we loosened the paywall at TheStreet last year, we literally doubled our subscription sign-up pacing.

So the idea is to get more people into the club. As much work you can do on optimizing your conversion rates, the addressable audience number is probably your most effective lever. Especially considering the fact that even the biggest publications are operating metered paywalls that give you 5 or 10 free articles a month.

Yes, it’s critical to get them in the club first, before you can sell them the VIP experience. Especially if people don’t really know what’s on the other side of that front door.

Makes sense. You’ve been in digital media since the 1990s, pioneering the way sports are consumed online, and I’m assuming you experienced the dot com crash and 2008 financial collapse like I did. Do any lessons from those past crises apply here?

Definitely. I guess the first thing to note is that even though Maven launched it’s brands only a couple years ago, much of our team has worked together twenty years and for some, thirty. We built the first centralized digital publishing platform for third-party journalists for the Seattle Goodwill Games in 1990; when we were all young kids who basically figured out how to templatize publishing. In the Nineties, we built one of the highest-traffic sports networks in the world, including and using a similar model, and followed architecting platform media businesses for News Corp and Yahoo! – and one of the keys to survival in down market is dual revenue.

In terms of the balance between subscription and advertising revenue, things really changed for us during the dot-com crash. In 2000, we realized it cost more to serve ads on DoubleClick than the CPMs yield (note — cost per thousand impressions, or how much money it costs you to reach 1,000 readers). It was the subscription revenue that carried us through the crash. So the subscription model has been a foundational part of our business plan for twenty years.

That sounds very familiar. At Salesforce, for example, we survived because we were this brand new thing, a SaaS company that you could access through a web browser and didn’t require a big installation or CapEx investment. Today you have over 100 million people looking at your network of websites, which are all run by independent publishers. What have you been doing in terms of outreach and doubling down on reader relationships?

In terms of reaching out to our subscribers and thinking on our feet, our publishers are certainly doing that — Sports Illustrated just launched a new Covid-19 podcast, for example. But I think we’re also benefiting from the work we did last year into making SI, The Street and our publishing platform work better as overall experiences: quicker load times, better landing pages, smarter lead gen and email marketing efforts. Again, we are infrastructure and optimization specialists, and there are huge benefits to be gained just from making digital content work better. We’ve all been getting the Covid-19 emails. Anyone can do that. The real dividends come from investing in your service during good times as well as bad.

I totally agree. Constant innovation is baked into this model. You need to win your subscribers every day. Thanks for the chat, James.

Any time.Sincerely,

Tien Tzuo
Founder & CEO of Zuora

Big Data Is Getting Bigger. So Are the Privacy and Ethical Questions

Big data is getting bigger. So are the privacy and ethical questions.

The next step in using “big data” for student success is upon us. It’s a little cool. And also kind of creepy.

This new approach goes beyond the tactics now used by hundreds of colleges, which depend on data collected from sources like classroom teaching platforms and student-information systems. It not only makes a technological leap; it also raises issues around ethics and privacy.

Here’s how it works: Whenever you log on to a wireless network with your cellphone or computer, you leave a digital footprint. Move from one building to another while staying on the same network, and that network knows how long you stayed and where you went. That data is collected continuously and automatically from the network’s various nodes.

Now, with the help of a company called Degree Analytics, a few colleges are beginning to use location data collected from students’ cellphones and laptops as they move around campus. Some colleges are using it to improve the kind of advice they might send to students, like a text-message reminder to go to class if they’ve been absent.


Others see it as a tool for making decisions on how to use their facilities. St. Edward’s University, in Austin, Tex., used the data to better understand how students were using its computer-equipped spaces. It found that a renovated lounge, with relatively few computers but with Wi-Fi access and several comfy couches, was one of the most popular such sites on campus. Now the university knows it may not need to buy as many computers as it once thought.

As Gary Garofalo, a co-founder and chief revenue officer of Degree Analytics, told me, “the network data has very intriguing advantages” over the forms of data that colleges now collect.

Some of those advantages are obvious: If you’ve got automatic information on every person walking around with a cellphone, your dataset is more complete than if you need to extract it from a learning-management system or from the swipe-card readers some colleges use to track students’ activities. Many colleges now collect such data to determine students’ engagement with their coursework and campus activities.

Of course, the 24-7 reporting of the data is also what makes this approach seem kind of creepy.

The founder of Degree Analytics had worked with an oil company that used remote sensors to monitor its far-flung wells to track whether any drill bits were about to fail. He’s now adapted that idea for his new company — except this time, it’s the students’ devices that are, in effect, the sensors.

Just having the information isn’t enough. Colleges need to know what to make of it. When it comes to using the information to improve student retention, Garofalo says the assumptions his company makes aren’t all that different from what a host of other data-analytics companies do with the data they collect. it just has richer information on where students are and when, as long as they’re on the Wi-Fi.

Ms. Blumenstyk is a senior writer at The Chronicle of Higher Education covering innovation in and around academe. For more than two years, Ms. Blumenstyk has been curating the weekly Re:Learning newsletter. Going forward Goldie will be using it to share her observations on the people and ideas reshaping the higher-education landscape. 


Degree Analytics is only about three years old, and it’s moving slowly: It has fewer than 10 clients so far. But this fall it will begin a pilot project with the giant California State University system. It will start at the Sacramento campus, but Cal State uses the same Wi-Fi and networking equipment for its entire 23-campus system, so it could easily expand. The system’s chief information officer, Patrick C. Perry, isn’t sure how the experiment will unfold. But, as he told me, “we are piqued.”

I have no reason to doubt anyone’s good intentions. The founder and chief executive of Degree Analytics, Aaron Benz, seems genuinely passionate about using data science to help students. If his company wasn’t doing this, it wouldn’t be too long before another company did. Perhaps some already are.

My concerns are broader: Just because colleges and companies can collect this information and associate it with all sorts of other academic and demographic data they have on students, should they? How far should colleges and companies go with data tracking?

I’m not the first to ask questions like this. A couple of years ago, a group of educators organized by Martin Kurzweil of Ithaka S+R and Mitchell Stevens of Stanford University issued a series of guidelines for colleges and companies to consider as they began to embrace data analytics. Among other principles, the guidelines highlighted the importance of being transparent about how the information is used, and ensuring that institutions’ leaders really understand what companies are doing with the data they collect. Experts at New America weighed in too.

See how is enabling individuals to claim their data as PROPERTY


I asked Kurzweil what he makes of the use of Wi-Fi information. Location tracking tends toward the “dicey” side of the spectrum, he says, though perhaps not as far out as using students’ social-media habits, health information, or what they check out from the library. The fundamental question, he says, is “how are they managing it?”

St. Edwards says it didn’t make extensive disclosures during its one-semester test last spring because it didn’t examine individualized data. But the university says it would be more open if it ever got much beyond the current point of differentiating students by categories like commuter and noncommuter. It’s unclear exactly how Sacramento State will disclose its experiment to students.

When Degree Analytics begins discussions with a college, Benz says, “the No. 1 thing we talk about is privacy.” The company holds meetings with students and takes other steps to make sure they know how their data is being used. It also recommends that colleges create Wi-Fi login pages that explicitly and simply describe their use of the Wi-Fi data — with a clear opt-out option. Even for Degree Analytics customers that do integrate the Wi-Fi data with other student information, he said, the company makes sure that the information is aggregated to cover period of time or a particular event, and not for one-on-one individual tracking. It’s not designed, Benz said, to answer questions like “Where’s Jimmy at 8:01 p.m.?” But, he acknowledged, that’s because of company policy. The technology could easily allow it.

Benz said his company’s policies, if anything, make its use of the data a lot more transparent than most colleges are about how they might use Wi-Fi network information. Fair point. Really, do most students realize that their institutions could use the data now to suss out whether they’re cheating together on remote exams?

So is this the future? Benz, at least, certainly hopes so. Inspired by the Wi-Fi-based StudentLife research project at Dartmouth College and the experiences Purdue University is having with students’ use of its Forecast app, he’s in talks now with a research university about a project that would generate other insights that might be gleaned from students’ Wi-Fi-usage patterns.

He wonders, for example, whether the data could inform decisions about how mental-health facilities are being used. I wonder just how far these kinds of tools can go — and how mindful of the potential pitfalls colleges and companies will be as they take them there.

Reposted from the Chronicle of Higher Education January 31, 2018

Here’s a List of Colleges’ Plans for Reopening in the Fall

List of Colleges’ Plans for Reopening Fall 2020

The coronavirus pandemic has left higher-education leaders facing difficult decisions about when to reopen campuses and how to go about it. The Chronicle is tracking individual colleges’ plans. Most say they are planning for an in-person fall semester. We’re currently tracking about 1,215 colleges.


Below is our list of colleges that have either disclosed their plans or set a deadline for deciding. New additions include American International College, Barton College, Lesley University, Mount Saint Mary’s University (Calif.), and Southern Connecticut State University. Among the colleges with status updates are California College of the Arts, the College of New Jersey, George Mason University, the Johns Hopkins University, Northern Illinois University, the University of Kentucky, the University of Montana, and Valparaiso University.

Add your college to the tracker or tell us if its plans are different than reported below. Use this form and provide a relevant link if you want your institution to be included.


University & College Fall 20202 Opening Plans

Chronicle of Higher Education

Develop in Production to Accelerate @Salesforce DevOps: A Guilty Pleasure Minus Any Comeback

Developing on Salesforce in multiple Sandboxes, moving to an Integration Test Sandbox and then into Production takes time and effort – especially if you are using Change Sets. Testing Salesforce configuration takes time writing scripts and running tests. All of this kills the agility of the business because it delays getting the updates into Production.

Before you throw your hands up in horror (or wave your copy of the OrgConfessions book at me), let me expand on what I mean by developing in Production. It all hinges on our assessment of the risks changes carry, and collecting user stories to ground your deployment lifecycle according to the potential risk. I will dig into this concept in the article, and more.

Wasted Time and Effort on Development – A Familiar Story?

Let’s start with OrgConfession 751:

“Spent 3 hours putting a change in production after weeks of designing and testing. By the end of the day, we had to turn the new process off again as the whole sales team up in arms about the process that they hadn’t been consulted on.“

How many of you relate to this? How demotivating is this for the developers?

How much wasted time and effort in development? What is the opportunity cost to the business?

Assess the Risk of Org Changes

Allow me to expand on what I said about developing in Production in the introduction.

Our Admin team at develop and test in Production. We do it with a clear conscience and we consider our Org to be the best run in the ecosystem (in fact, Rob Brown our CRO, tells customers that if they can show their Org is better run than ours, they can have the app for free. Fighting talk!).

We are delivering 40 changes per week into our Org.

It all hinges on our assessment of the risk of the changes.

  • LOW risk changes: we can develop straight into Production – this is quicker, easier and cheaper.
  • MEDIUM risk changes: we develop and test in a Sandbox and roll straight into Production.
  • HIGH risk changes, we develop in a Sandbox, we move it to the Integration-Test Sandbox for rigorous testing before we roll in into Production. This is the most expensive process, so we only use this approach for changes that have the risk that justifies the effort.

Not every change needs to go through the full development pipeline. So for low risk changes, this is developing straight into production rather than wasting time and effort pushing every change through the full rigorous pipeline that has been designed for high risk changes. Below is a high level schematic.

The more releases that can be taken through the low and medium development paths, the faster and more cheaply releases can be delivered. The development team is more effective. The business is more agile. Everyone wins.

3 Ways to Accelerate Salesforce Changes

Development is just part of the implementation cycle, so here are 3 ways to accelerate the  whole cycle.

Spoiler alert: Skipping steps is not one of them.

Every step is critical to maintaining the integrity of the apps you are building. For small low risk changes, the step may take only a few minutes. Every change is turned into a user story.

The challenge we see again and again is the ANALYZE phase is rushed to get to the BUILD phase. This gives the illusion of speed, but comes back to bite when there is poor user adoption and rework in development.

To accelerate the cycle you need to

Salesforce User Stories and Release Risk Assessment

Sometimes a seemingly simple change has huge ramifications, for example, change a picklist, but then realize that it fires off a flow which then has a knock-on effect.

What could feel like a complex set of configurations is actually quite benign, like “build a new object for tracking customer stories and cases studies links to Contacts using lookup relationships”

Without any risk assessment you have to assume that every user story is high risk – and the release is high risk. Which means it goes through the full, expensive and time consuming, deployment process.

However, if you are able to understand the risk of each change you end up with a different picture. In the image below the release is still high risk, but only because one change in user story 2 is high risk.

But we could reduce the risk of the release to medium by taking out that change from user story 2 or removing user story 2 from this release.  Now that release can take a faster path through the delivery pipeline and it will require less testing.

If we really wanted to get this release out faster we could remove both user story 2 and 3.Then the release would be low risk and could be developed directly in production and turned around in minutes.

Simple Risk Assessment Approach

We have developed a very simple risk assessment approach that can be applied to every change with relatively little overhead. We apply it to every change no matter how small, because it determines the development and deployment approach. For a small change it could take just 5-10 minutes of analysis giving us the confidence to develop straight into production, saving hours of deployment effort.

We assess the risk of a user story by looking at both its impact and the complexity. This is by looking at the metadata items in each user story. The overall risk of the user story is the combination of assessment of both the impact and complexity. This is a simple matrix.

The Impact Assessment – Technical, Organizational, Regulatory

We consider the 3 different impact types for a user story (in this order)

  • Technical: what metadata items will be touched and how interconnected are they
  • Organizational: how significant a change to the operational working practices
  • Regulatory: will this put the business at risk from a regulatory compliance perspective.

Technical Impact

Using the MetadataAPI, the DependencyAPI and custom code we build a picture of the impact of a change through multiple levels in a metadata dictionary. We also link the metadata items to user stories and add documentation in the metadata dictionary. This helps future technical impact analysis. Below is an impact assessment of the field “Close Date” on our “Opportunity” object showing all the dependent metadata items. I can click on any item to drill into more detail.

Organizational Impact

The organizational impact is assessed by looking at the business processes that are going to be changed. These are the process diagrams linked to the metadata items. If you don’t have any process diagrams, now is the perfect time to start drawing them as it will also help you validate user requirements and they can be embedded in page layouts for training. The activity boxes with a “corner” have lower level diagrams.

Regulatory Impact

The regulatory impact can then be assessed by considering how the change affects ISO27100, GDPR, CCPA, FDA and other regulatory standards. Again the process maps can help with this, plus a data privacy assessment for fields.

How Do You Assess Complexity?

Now you have the impact assessment you need to assess the complexity of a user story based on the number of metadata items that need to be created or changed, and their complexity. This is not a simple count of metadata items, but an educated guess based on how you are going to deliver the change.

Allocating Release Risk Into Paths

Then you need to decide how the user story risks are aggregated into the release risk. We take the highest level risk of any of the user stories and this risk level of the release. You could build your own algorithm, but simple is best.

Now you have the release risk level, you need to decide the path that each level of risk takes through your development processes. Below is a high level schematic. Obviously we have used to map out our development processes down several levels of detail – 6 diagrams in total. The devil is in the detail. We are happy to share our development process diagrams which you can use as a starting point for your process documentation.


Overview of high, medium and low development approach

An example process diagram of high, medium and low development  Level 1.14.3

What Are the Benefits to This Approach?

There are huge benefits to the business and to the development team of adopting this approach. The good news? It takes relatively little effort and cost:

  • Drive out waste in development processes which are identified in the process reengineering exercise,
  • Cost savings in the development team as they are not wasting time forcing lower risk changes through a more rigorous process than needed,
  • Lower risk releases are delivered more quickly, so the business is more agile and gets the benefits earlier,
  • Reduce of release failures that have to be rolled-back due to better analysis,
  • Less rework as more structured business analysis means the requirements are better understood, first time.

Running the workshops to reengineer and document the development processes takes a few days. Especially if you use Elements Catalyst process mapping in live workshops as it is so collaborative. Elements Catalyst builds the metadata dictionary for an Org and performs the analysis. It takes less than 5 minutes to set up and the Org analysis is run nightly, automatically.

The Final Thought

Whilst this sounds like a tall order – documenting your development processes and establishing the risk parameters – it is a small one-off activity compared with the daily, weekly and monthly effort of pushing changes around the implementation lifecycle only to have them explode or be rejected and need to be rolled back.

I will leave you with OrgConfession 707

“I deleted one custom field that blew up 40+ reports, 3 dashboards, and two weeks of my life”

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Salesforce for Higher Ed … tools to keep the ORG clean, relevant and adopted

Speed and relevance are the most important currencies during a crisis. That means adapting quickly and leveraging technology.

Industry leaders have identified 3 phases that all organizations are going to go through: Stabilize, Reopen, Grow. Organizations are currently adapting in the  phase, which is about reacting to crisis. Forward thinking leaders are digitally transforming their businesses to be effective in the Grow phase. This is due to a change in customer expectations and the markets. COVID-19 has accelerated this agenda. Salesforce will be at the heart of these transformations as they will be centered on a 360 degree view of the customer.

It is unlikely that there will be a “back to normal” scenario. Without a clear playbook, organizations will need to be agile so they can quickly optimize their business models (people, process and technology) in response to very dynamic conditions. However, this needs to be both robust and sustainable with a level of governance.

Many organizations are unprepared for the pace of change that will be required. High levels of technical debt, long Salesforce implementation release cycles and low adoption rates have blunted the agility of organizations. Even the largest and most mature Salesforce customers say they do not have a platform that provides centralized documentation and impact assessment to allow them to make Salesforce Org changes at pace. Without it they suffer from an increased level of technical, business and governance (regulatory) risk. They are not exploiting the power of Salesforce.

The Salesforce implementation lifecycle needs (itself) to be digitally transformed. There should be a natural flow of documentation along the lifecycle. Every phase uses documentation from earlier phases. Currently, vital time and information is lost transferring from document to spreadsheet to app and then back to document. There is no reuse of information, in context. The power of the Salesforce metadata APIs is not exploited. There is no impact analysis enabling changes to be accelerated based on risk. There is no traceability or governance.

It does not have to be this way..

The Salesforce Org should become more valuable with age – rather like fine wine or classic sports cars. It should get incrementally better every hour, every day, every release.

What is required is a centralized platform designed to support rapid business change and Salesforce releases. It coordinates the development and reuse of all documentation around the lifecycle and provides power risk analysis to support accelerated change.

elements virtuous loop

The overall benefits of digital transformation are unequivocal, and organizations that can respond quickly in the Grow phase will ultimately emerge as the overall winners. The tactical benefits of using a centralized platform to drive more rapid and controlled change release cycles can be as high as 25% process improvement savings, 80% reduction in impact assessment effort and 20% increased user adoption All of these underpin and accelerate the digital transformation agenda which is the far larger prize. So, there is an immediate return, that will keep paying back long after we have forgotten COVID-19. has been designed as a platform to accelerate digital transformation that can scale to the largest organizations worldwide. It can support such rapid pace of change, with confidence and governance. It is tightly integrated into Salesforce and is based on 20+ years of proven projects in Fortune 500 companies.

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The Growing Partisan Divide in Views of Higher Education

From Pew Research Center, July 2020

Americans see value in higher education – whether they graduated from college or not. Most say a college degree is important, if not essential, in helping a young person succeed in the world, and college graduates themselves say their degree helped them grow and develop the skills they needed for the workplace. While fewer than half of today’s young adults are enrolled in a two-year or four-year college, the share has risen steadily over the past several decades. And the economic advantages college graduates have over those without a degree are clear and growing.

Even so, there is an undercurrent of dissatisfaction – even suspicion – among the public about the role colleges play in society, the way admissions decisions are made and the extent to which free speech is constrained on college campuses. And these views are increasingly linked to partisanship.

Increase in the share of Americans saying colleges have a negative effect on the U.S. is driven by Republicans' changing views

new Pew Research Center survey finds that only half of American adults think colleges and universities are having a positive effect on the way things are going in the country these days. About four-in-ten (38%) say they are having a negative impact – up from 26% in 2012.

The share of Americans saying colleges and universities have a negative effect has increased by 12 percentage points since 2012. The increase in negative views has come almost entirely from Republicans and independents who lean Republican. From 2015 to 2019, the share saying colleges have a negative effect on the country went from 37% to 59% among this group. Over that same period, the views of Democrats and independents who lean Democratic have remained largely stable and overwhelmingly positive.

Only half of American adults think colleges and universities are having a positive effect on the way things are going in the country these days.

Gallup found a similar shift in views about higher education. Between 2015 and 2018, the share of Americans saying they had a great deal or quite a lot of confidence in higher education dropped from 57% to 48%, and the falloff was greater among Republicans (from 56% to 39%) than among Democrats (68% to 62%).1

Most Democrats have confidence in college professors to act in the public interest; Republicans are dividedTwo additional Pew Research Center surveys underscore the partisan gap in views about higher education. In late 2018, 84% of Democrats and independents who lean to the Democratic Party said they have a great deal or a fair amount of confidence in college and university professors to act in the best interests of the public. Only about half (48%) of Republicans and Republican leaners said the same. In fact, 19% of Republicans said they have no confidence at all in college professors to act in the public interest. And in early 2019, 87% of Democrats – but fewer than half (44%) of Republicans – said colleges and universities are open to a wide range of opinions and viewpoints

Republicans and Democrats differ over what’s ailing higher education

Most Americans have doubts about the direction of higher education in the U.S. % saying the higher education system in the U.S. today is generally going in the …2018 Pew Research Center survey took a deeper dive into the reasons for these shifting views. The survey first asked whether the higher education system in the U.S. is generally going in the right or wrong direction. A majority of Americans (61%) say it’s going in the wrong direction. Republicans and Republican leaners are significantly more likely to express this view than Democrats and Democratic leaners (73% vs. 52%).

Large partisan gaps in reasons why higher education is headed in the wrong directionAmong those who say higher education is headed in the wrong direction, some of the reasons why they think this is the case differ along party lines. Majorities of Republicans (77%) and Democrats (92%) say high tuition costs are a major reason why they believe colleges and universities are headed in the wrong direction.

Democrats who see problems with the higher education system cite rising costs more often than other factors as a major reason for their concern, while Republicans are just as likely to point to other issues as reasons for their discontent. Roughly eight-in-ten Republicans (79%) say professors bringing their political and social views into the classroom is a major reason why the higher education system is headed in the wrong direction (only 17% of Democrats say the same). And three-quarters of Republicans (vs. 31% of Democrats) point to too much concern about protecting students from views they might find offensive as a major reason for their views. In addition, Republicans are more likely than Democrats to say students not getting the skills they need to succeed in the workplace is a major reason why the higher education system is headed in the wrong direction (73% vs. 56%).

There are significant age gaps among Republicans in these views. Older Republicans are much more likely than their younger counterparts to point to ideological factors, such as professors bringing their views into the classroom and too much concern about political correctness on campus. For example, 96% of Republicans ages 65 and older who think higher education is headed in the wrong direction say professors bringing their views into the classroom is a major reason for this. Only 58% of Republicans ages 18 to 34 share that view.

Republicans and Democrats disagree on the effect that professors’ personal views have on the value of a college education.

A 2017 Gallup survey found similar partisan divides when it asked those who expressed only some or very little confidence in U.S. colleges and universities why they felt that way. Democrats tended to focus more on costs and quality, with 36% volunteering that college is too expensive, 14% saying colleges have poor leadership and are not well run, and 11% saying the overall quality of higher education is going down. Republicans focused more on political and ideological factors: 32% said colleges and universities are too political or too liberal (only 1% of Democrats volunteered this type of response). And 21% of Republicans pointed to colleges not allowing students to think for themselves and pushing their own agenda as reasons why they didn’t have a lot of confidence in them.

Majority of Americans say politics on college campuses have a political tiltAnother national survey conducted last year by Boston-based WGBH News looked more closely at views about the political climate at colleges and universities. A majority of adults (59%) said politics on college campuses lean toward a particular viewpoint, while 28% said campuses are nonpartisan. Of those who thought politics lean toward one particular viewpoint, 77% said they lean liberal, while 15% said they lean conservative. About half (47%) of those who see an ideological tilt at colleges and universities said this is a major problem, while 32% said it’s a minor problem.

These views differed substantially by party. A majority of Democrats (60%) said students are hearing a full range of viewpoints on college campuses, but only 26% of Republicans shared that view.2 In addition, Republicans were much more likely than Democrats to see a political leaning on college campuses: 72% of Republicans compared with 48% of Democrats said campuses lean toward one particular viewpoint. Among those who saw a political leaning, majorities of Republicans (85%) and Democrats (68%) said campuses lean more liberal than conservative. But Republicans were much more likely than Democrats to say that campuses leaning toward a particular viewpoint is a major problem – 67% of Republicans vs. 26% Democrats said this.

Views on the college admissions process

The equity of the college admissions process has come into question recently, with many concerned that wealth and privilege are having an undue influence. Earlier this year, the College Board announced that it will begin including an “adversity score” along with a student’s SAT score in an effort to provide more information about students’ educational and socioeconomic backgrounds.

According to the WGBH News survey, the vast majority of Americans say it’s important for colleges and universities to have a diverse student body in terms of race and ethnicity. About six-in-ten (63%) say this is extremely or very important and an additional 22% say it’s somewhat important. Only 13% say diversity on campuses is not important.

Americans value diversity on college campuses but don't think race and ethnicity should be a factor in college admissionsHowever, a recent Pew Research Center survey finds that the public is not in favor of colleges and universities considering race or ethnicity in making admissions decisions. Some 73% of all adults say race or ethnicity should not be a factor in college admissions decisions. About one-in-five (19%) say this should be a minor factor and 7% say it should be a major factor. Majorities across racial and ethnic groups – 62% of blacks, 65% of Hispanics, 58% of Asians and 78% of whites – say race and ethnicity should not be a factor in admissions decisions. Republicans are more likely than Democrats to say race and ethnicity shouldn’t be a factor in admissions decisions, but majorities of both groups express this view (85% among Republicans, 63% among Democrats).

The equity of the college admissions process has come into question recently, with many concerned that wealth and privilege are having an undue influence.

So what factors does the public think should drive admissions decisions? High school grades top the list – 67% say grades should be a major factor in making these decisions, and 26% say they should be a minor factor. About half (47%) say standardized test scores should be a major factor, and 41% say they should be a minor factor.

Those two largely objective factors stand out among other potential admissions criteria. Fewer adults say community service involvement (21% cite this as a major factor, 48% minor) or being a first-generation college student (20% major, 27% minor) should be factors in making college admissions decisions. And fewer still say that athletic ability (8% major, 34% minor) or legacy status (8% major, 24% minor) should be factors.

In some cases, college graduates have different views on this than those who did not graduate from college. For example, while 57% of those with a four-year college degree say whether someone is the first in their family to attend college should be a major or minor factor in making admissions decisions, 43% of those without a bachelor’s degree say the same.

The value of a college degree

Despite the public’s increasingly negative views about higher education and its role in society, most Americans say a college education is important – if not essential – in helping a young person succeed in the world today. A 2018 Center survey found that 31% of adults say a college education is essential, and an additional 60% say it is important but not essential. However, far higher shares say a good work ethic (89%), the ability to get along with people (85%), and work skills learned on the job (75%) are essential for a young person to succeed.

When it comes to their own experiences with higher education, an earlier Center survey found that the vast majority of college graduates (from both two- and four-year institutions) say college was useful for them in terms of helping them grow personally and intellectually (62% say it was very useful in this regard, 31% say it was somewhat useful). Large majorities also say it was useful in opening doors to job opportunities (53% say very useful, 29% say somewhat) and in helping them develop specific skills and knowledge that could be used in the workplace (49% very, 35% somewhat).

Still, the public remains skeptical that today’s colleges are preparing people for the workforce. Only 16% say a four-year degree from a college or university prepares someone very well for a well-paying job in today’s economy, while 51% say it prepares them somewhat well. Community colleges get even less positive marks: 12% say a two-year degree from these colleges prepares someone very well for a job, and 46% say it prepares them somewhat well.

These views generally don’t differ markedly by educational attainment. Among adults with a four-year college degree or higher, 13% say a four-year degree prepares someone very well for a well-paying job; 11% of those with an associate degree say the same, as do 12% of those with some college experience but no degree and 17% of those with no education beyond high school. However, among those who didn’t complete high school, a much higher share – 40% – say a four-year college degree prepares someone very well for a well-paying job.

Republicans and Democrats have similar opinions on this, although Democrats are more likely than Republicans to say a four-year degree prepares people somewhat well for a high-paying job in today’s economy.

There’s a larger party gap in views on the main purpose of college. A majority of Republicans (58%) say it should be to teach specific skills and knowledge that can be used in the workplace, while only 28% say it should be to help an individual grow personally and intellectually. Democrats are more evenly divided on this: 43% say the main purpose of college should be developing skills and knowledge, while roughly the same share (42%) point to personal and intellectual growth.

Income gap between four-year college graduates and other workers has grown in recent decadesEven amid doubts about the extent to which college prepares people for today’s job market and disagreement about what the role of college should be, the fact remains that a four-year college degree has very real economic benefits. The income gap between college graduates and those without a bachelor’s degree has grown significantly over the past several decades. In 1990, the median annual earnings for a full-time worker ages 25 to 37 with a bachelor’s degree or higher was $53,600. At the time, this compared with $40,200 for a worker with some college experience but no bachelor’s degree and $33,600 for a worker with no college experience. In 2018, the difference was even more pronounced: $56,000 for a worker with a bachelor’s degree or more education, $36,000 for someone with some college education and $31,300 for a high school graduate.

This broad overview of data on views about higher education in the U.S. reveals a complex set off attitudes – a public that still sees the benefit of a college education but has grown wary about the politics and culture on college campuses and the value of a four-year degree that has an ever-increasing price tag.

The partisan gaps underlying these views are reflective of our politics more broadly. From health care to the environment to immigration and foreign policy, Republicans and Democrats increasingly see the issues of the day through different lenses. But views on the nation’s educational institutions have not traditionally been politicized. Higher education faces a host of challenges in the future – controlling costs amid increased fiscal pressures, ensuring that graduates are prepared for the jobs of the future, adapting to changing technology and responding to the country’s changing demographics. Ideological battles waged over the climate and culture on college campuses may make addressing these broader issues more difficult.

  1. Party breaks from Gallup data do not include independents who lean to the Republican or Democratic Party. 
  2. Party breaks from WGBH News data do not include independents who lean to the Republican or Democratic Party. 

This Will Be One of the Worst Months in the History of Higher Education

Universities in USAby Robert Kelchen

Summer is usually a period of relative calm for most of American higher education, but this one is different. Faculty members are increasingly indignant about the prospect of being forced back on campus in the fall; administrators are quietly scrambling behind the scenes to do contingency planning. These disruptions are just the beginning. Whether colleges are willing to admit it or not, chaos will be greeting many of them in the coming weeks, and wishful thinking will not be enough to avoid it.

Most colleges have been optimistically pitching a return to campus for students, even if they acknowledge the experience will be much different than normal. The Chronicle’tracker of colleges’ fall plans currently shows that about 60 percent of colleges are planning for an in-person fall, while less than 10 percent are planning for a mainly online fall.

I wrote an essay in May about how I expected colleges to have most of their classes online in the fall. Since then, two developments have made widespread returns to campus even less likely. The first is that both the number of confirmed coronavirus cases and the percentage of people testing positive for the virus have increased in recent weeks, indicating further spread of Covid-19 in much of the country. Large off-campus parties have fueled the contagion even more in college towns. The second is that federal support for reopening campuses does not appear to be on the horizon. While Senate Republicans are open to providing some funds for testing, their next relief bill is not due to be unveiled for at least a month. That is far too late to help colleges in August.


Following the lead of a number of community colleges and the California State University system, a few elite private institutions, such as Bowdoin College and Harvard, have announced plans for a primarily online fall semester. In a likely sign of things to come, the University of Southern California, which had previously announced it would use a hybrid model, recently reversed course. It now says almost all of its classes will be online. Once a few more colleges start to make these announcements — and especially when it becomes obvious that college football will not happen — expect the dam holding back further announcements to break.

By the end of July, most colleges will have announced plans for a primarily online fall term, with only critical classes being held in person and limited residence-hall capacity for students who do not have other safe options. The need to prepare for the fall is beginning to outweigh any potential benefits of outwaiting competitors, especially as students expect a better online experience this fall than what they received under emergency conditions in the spring. Wealthy liberal-arts colleges in rural areas that can afford frequent virus testing and cash-strapped colleges desperate for survival are likely to be the main holdouts.

Colleges primarily rely on four revenue sources to balance their budgets: tuition, state funding, auxiliary sources such as housing and dining, and endowment and donations. Each of these sources will be affected by a primarily online fall. Colleges that get a large share of their revenue from room and board are at highest risk of facing a budget calamity that could lead to closure. This auxiliary revenue is especially important for small, residential private nonprofit colleges. For instance, the now-closed Green Mountain College, in Vermont, earned $15.41 million in total revenue in the 2018 fiscal year, with $8.78 million (57 percent) coming from tuition and $4.69 million (30.5 percent) coming from auxiliary sources such as housing and dining.

As for tuition revenue, it will decline for most colleges, even though it may not be as bad as many think. But colleges will face complaints and lawsuits about charging the same price for online instruction as in-person classes. And as some donors and politicians will not be happy with closed campuses, state funding and major gifts could be at risk in some cases.

With major declines in revenue for another semester, major budget cuts are coming at most colleges. Back in March, colleges froze hiring, professional-development expenses, and any spending deemed to be not absolutely necessary, and those policies generally remain in place. Furloughs, especially of staff members, and non-renewal of term contracts came next. Now the layoffs and pay cuts are starting. Some colleges have already announced their cuts, and more will undoubtedly be announced in the next few weeks as the financial picture becomes clearer.

Some colleges will be forced to take more drastic measures. Declaring financial exigency — essentially a state of fiscal emergency — will become more common over the coming weeks in an effort to give college leaders a way to eliminate academic departments and lay off tenured faculty members. Central Washington UniversityLincoln University (Mo.), and Missouri Western State University have all declared exigency already. This is the most extreme option available to public-college leaders when legislators will not let them close.

I fear that the next month will see the closure of dozens of small private nonprofit colleges that simply do not have the money to pull through this crisis. About five to 10 colleges close each year. We may see five years’ worth of closures within five weeks. This will be one of the worst months in the recent history of higher education. A silver lining, for students, is that other colleges will rush in to accommodate them in an effort to support their own bottom lines and to do the right thing.

But closures right before the start of the academic year will be brutal for staff and faculty members as well as the broader rural communities in which many of these colleges are located. These closures threaten to heighten already large divides in support for higher education based on urban vs. rural location and partisan affiliation.


My plea to college presidents and boards is to announce the inevitable decision to hold most of the fall semester online immediately rather than trying to wait out competitors. This is the right thing to do for everyone in higher education. Students can get a higher-quality education if faculty members have more time to prepare classes. Colleges can devote resources to improving online education and making sure that all remaining in-person classes are as safe as possible. Local communities may see fewer out-of-town students who could spread the virus and tax local health-care systems. Finally, governments and public-health agencies can focus their efforts on safely reopening child-care centers and elementary schools that are essential to an economic recovery and cannot be easily replicated online.

College leaders have difficult decisions to make over the coming weeks as they try to navigate uncharted waters. To best protect their institutions and broader communities, it is time to batten down the hatches and prepare for the storm instead of hoping that it miraculously blows over.

Robert Kelchen is an associate professor of higher education at Seton Hall University.

Fall 2020 University Schedule Status



Over the past few weeks, hundreds of colleges have made statements about their plans for the fall semester. While most express some level of uncertainty, others have included promises to reopen on schedule. Radford University, in Virginia, for example, proudly announced that it will fully reopen on August 3, with no listed contingency plans. The president of Nicholls State University, in Louisiana, said “we’re back on our campus” in the fall. And Nova Southeastern University, in Florida, has vowed — in bold font — that the fall semester will be on campus.

The next sentence of Nova’s press release is much more truthful: “This of course, is subject to the governor of Florida’s executive orders at the time of opening, as well as CDC and local government directives.” Politicians and public-health officials — not college presidents — are going to determine when colleges are allowed to open. Higher education will be one of the last industries to resume business as usual, because of concerns with social distancing, contact tracing, and the intermingling of younger students and older faculty and staff members. This means that a full reopening of most colleges in the fall almost certainly won’t happen.

College leaders know all that. So why are some of them still expressing public confidence in reopening? Here are three possible reasons:

To keep students enrolled. Most high-school seniors considering college strongly prefer classes in person, so colleges that make early announcements that the fall semester will be online run the risk of losing students to competitors. This year’s admissions cycle was already scrambled at many colleges because of the changes required by the Department of Justice in admissions practices. Cash-strapped colleges, more dependent than ever on net tuition revenue, have little choice but to express optimism now to avoid a larger hit to their budgets in the fall.

Political posturing. There is a partisan divide about both the severity of the pandemic and how quickly society should reopen, with Republicans generally less concerned about the virus and more supportive of a rapid reopening than Democrats are. This puts intense pressure on public-college leaders in conservative states to announce plans to reopen quickly. That could affect private colleges as well, depending on the political inclinations of their board members.

Sheer optimism. The end of the pandemic might well be a direct result of academic research; there have been a number of promising developments already. For example, Rutgers University has developed a rapid saliva test, and the University of Pittsburgh was among the first to create a potential vaccine. The American higher-education system excels at producing innovations, so some degree of optimism is appropriate. Outside of academe, too, there have been signs of progress toward a vaccine. However, these developments may be too late to save the fall semester on campus.

New research by Christopher Marsicano and others at Davidson College shows that colleges’ decisions to suspend in-person classes in March were influenced by political pressures from state governments and by peer institutions’ making the same decisions. A similar game of follow-the-leader will very likely take place in late June or early July, when presidents of a few prestigious colleges will write opinion pieces in national newspapers announcing their institutions’ decisions to stay online in September because of public-health concerns.

In reality, the prestigious colleges will be following leaders such as the California State University system, Santa Rosa Junior College, and Sierra College, which have already made the difficult decision to keep the fall term online. But the announcements by elite colleges will provide others with the political cover they need to make the necessary choice. Within one or two weeks, most of them will probably have followed suit.


That timeline creates major concerns about educational quality. Both colleges and students want fall courses to be better than the ones they had this spring. But designing courses to be most effective in an online format takes significant time and resources, and I worry about the implications of an early-July decision on courses that are to start eight weeks later. Instructional designers and information-technology professionals are likely to become overwhelmed, faculty members will balk at the additional uncompensated work, and everyone in higher education is already exhausted from the past few months.

Nobody wants to be among the first presidents to announce that classes will be fully online in the fall. The financial and political risks can’t be ignored. But the scenario is almost a certainty, and the risks will be even greater for colleges that take too long to prepare for it.

Robert Kelchen is an associate professor of higher education at Seton Hall University.

The Plan for College Budgets Next Year? Improvise

by Scott Carlson, Chronicle of Higher Education – June 2020

In the drive to reopen campuses — in the fall? in the spring? — college leaders have to consider a dizzying array of challenges: how often to test, how to rejigger classrooms and residences, what technology to acquire for hybrid courses, and what kinds of protective gear professors and staff members need, among many others.

These challenges — all of which are moving targets — carry big implications for revenues and expenses. Money, said Elizabeth A. Hardin, vice chancellor for business affairs at the University of North Carolina at Charlotte, is the “binding constraint,” the major limiting factor on the feasibility of opening. To plan a budget for 2020-21 is an exercise in improvisation, not usually the place where chief finance officers — who deal in hard numbers — like to be.

Just consider the financial calculations concerning Covid-19 testing: Mecklenburg County, home of the university, can conduct 700 to 900 tests a day and is hoping to increase that to 1,800 a day. Last fall the university had 25,000 undergraduates on campus, so it has to be extremely intentional about who gets tested and when. The cost of the test is one thing. But what is the cost of processing the test? Of setting up the area where people take the test, or the salaries of the people who administer it? Of delivering the results in a timely manner? Of the database used to store information? Of the space, utilities, and staffing where all this testing takes place?

You can see, Hardin noted, that this gets complicated quickly — and that’s just testing. Now apply that thinking to the puzzles surrounding enrollment, academic programs, distance education, dining, athletics, and so on. Then layer in the effects of the recession, which will strain state coffers and family incomes, and further pummel college and university budgets. And it’s imperative to figure out all of this soon, given that nearly every institution will have to line up agreements with faculty members and service providers over the summer to cover the year.

Aerial view of crowd connected by lines

Aerial view of crowd connected by lines

Perhaps the only certainty about budgets for the coming year is this: They’re going to have to be malleable enough to adapt to a wider range of scenarios than anyone can remember. “It is entirely possible that the biggest risk for institutions financially is to come back in the fall and then have to send people home again,” Hardin said.

If You Open, Will They Come?

The enrollment picture for fall is perhaps the most important and confounding factor for a September opening — a factor that will dictate everything else for tuition-driven institutions. A majority of the more than 800 colleges tracked by The Chronicle have declared that they will reopen their campuses in the fall — and many presidents have noted that deposits toward fall enrollment have held up pretty well, given the extraordinary circumstances. Some presidents — like Mitch Daniels, of Purdue University — have been downright insistent about the imperative to open, despite numerous editorials questioning how realistic that position is.

A student may plop down a few hundred bucks to hold a place at a college, but that doesn’t mean the student will then spend tens of thousands of dollars if the college experience seems to be diminished. Robert Kelchen, who recently published an opinion essay in The Chronicle Review questioning the feasibility of a fall opening, notes that predicting enrollment is not nearly as important as determining the net revenue from that enrollment. It’s unclear how much colleges will have to discount tuition to draw students. (Perhaps a tougher problem: how much colleges will have to discount tuition if fall ends up entirely online.)

In his essay, Kelchen, an associate professor of higher education at Seton Hall University, suggested that colleges might be bluffing about their plans this fall, to keep students enrolled or to appease local policy makers. But Rick Staisloff, a former small-college financial officer who advises colleges, wonders if signaling a fall opening is more likely an avoidance strategy.

“I never think of people in higher ed as poker players,” he said. “I think it has more to do with their reluctance to wrestle with some hard questions.”

Traditionally, faculty members chafe at analyses of which academic programs generate revenue and which do not. As a result, many colleges struggle to truly understand how they make a living. The coronavirus only complicates that question further. Typically, institutions get infusions of cash in the fall and spring — and perhaps a smaller financial boost in the summer — and they balance those against the costs of their academic programs. Since the 2008 recession, more colleges have given attention to understanding the costs of their academic programs and administrative departments.


“But candidly, most colleges probably don’t really know what drives their business model,” said Staisloff.

Having that data will be essential to successfully opening in the fall. Colleges cannot be in the position to offer all the programs they had before Covid-19, Staisloff said, given that enrollment could decline drastically over the coming year.

“You want to know what are the things that you might focus on that help to drive an overall sustainable model,” he said. Knowing the financial details of programs — what drives revenue and expenses, and how those factors might be tweaked to maximize net revenue, will be a key step toward a fall opening.

Colleges that haven’t done an accounting of their academic programs could try a back-of-the-envelope assessment, but a simplistic approach could lead to false results. Small academic programs often actually make a little money despite the widespread perception that such programs are money losers; meanwhile, some large and popular programs have higher costs than revenues. Getting to the bottom line can take time.

“You’re starting way behind the curve,” said Staisloff — but that’s not a reason not to start. “You’re going to need to know that anyway.”

Overoptimism that enrollment will hold up, or that business as usual will return, is counterproductive. “I worry because institutions are waiting, waiting, waiting,” he said. “Institutions will be better off putting some stakes in the ground that they can plan toward sooner.’

A Range of Other Factors

Colleges are planning now for the infrastructure they will need in the fall, but typically reliable areas of profit and loss might quickly become complicated.

Student residences and dining stand out among them. Auxiliary revenue can be a major source of income for colleges during a normal academic year. As one small-college president, speaking on background, put it to The Chronicle recently: “We make money on the residence halls, break even on dining, and lose money on everything else.”

In the coronavirus era, student residences could instead become a major liability. Many dorms will have excess capacity, as students spread out. Perhaps colleges will have to pay more to have bathrooms cleaned more frequently. But who knows if students will want to live in dorms anyway, if they can’t engage in the free and open socializing that they would normally?


“It’ll be a challenge to get more than half capacity back,” said Kelchen. “Would students even be willing to pay for an entire semester of housing and room and board upfront? Or is it you pay by the month, just in case things get interrupted? Colleges are going to push for the money upfront, but they have to hold a lot of it back in reserve, in case they have to do refunds later.”

Classrooms, in maintaining six-foot distances, could lose more than half their capacity, requiring administrators to commandeer new and unusual spaces across campus. Technology could help, but it is also a big potential expense. Plymouth State University, in New Hampshire, is outfitting half of its classrooms with $1.7 million in technology to transmit in-person teaching, in case students can’t attend. (However, moves like that could also be seen as an investment that will expand an institution’s reach and give it an ability to scale up its offerings after Covid-19 subsides.)

If sports teams can’t come back to play, or if crowds can’t gather in stadiums, institutions both large and small will be affected. Many colleges rely on enrollments from student-athletes, and the biggest sports programs draw money from live games and TV contracts.

For a smaller set of institutions, hospitals are another major risk factor. Hospitals have been losing millions of dollars a day since the coronavirus took off. Many major medical institutions have been acquiring smaller hospitals in their regions, expanding their exposure to risk. The Johns Hopkins University has an extensive network of hospitals and clinics, making it the biggest employer not just in Baltimore but in the state of Maryland. The university will have to cut costs by $475 million.

Small institutions, without those major infrastructure burdens, have challenges of their own in trying to navigate a fall opening. Mary Marcy, president of Dominican University of California, said it has planned and budgeted for a series of scenarios for the fall.

“We’re building backstops against the budget,” she said, noting that the university is as well positioned as it could be: It recently went through a review of programs, cutting some that were outdated or too expensive to maintain, and raising the student-to-faculty ratio from 9:1 to a more sustainable 11:1 last year, toward an eventual goal of 14:1.

Marcy and six other other members of the administrative team have taken voluntary pay cuts totaling $100,000 (coordinated by the vice president for advancement, to ensure discretion and remove concerns about being judged on the level of sacrifice). The money saved, which is to be used to support students affected by Covid-19, has been matched by gifts from the governing board, she said. Dominican hasn’t yet tapped its line of credit, which could provide a ballast of cash in the months to come.

Deposits are holding up well, Marcy noted, and the university has strong graduate programs that could get a countercyclical boost in the looming recession.

“My assumption is that if we’re not in-person in the fall, I don’t think we can justify the same level of tuition, certainly,” she said. “We’re making all the reductions that we feel like we can and that are strategic — that don’t cut the entire heart out of the institution, because we have to be viable at the other end.”

The Deep-Freeze Scenario

The question of what it would take, financially, to open in September comes with a thought experiment: If health concerns or anemic enrollment makes reopening financially untenable, would it make more sense to simply not open? In interviews over the past couple of months, some higher-ed leaders pondered whether it might be possible for their institutions to go into a kind of deep freeze — to shut down for a year and hope for a Covid-19 vaccine in time for the fall of 2021.

History offers a guide. John Thelin, a historian of higher education, noted in a recent interview with The Chronicle that colleges during the Great Depression went into a kind of “semi-hibernation” and “barter economy,” during which people sometimes didn’t get paid, but many colleges survived.

For most institutions today, that is more fantasy than reality. Many colleges have an extensive built environment, carrying with it substantial debt payments and service contracts with third-party vendors. But employees represent the primary expense: Payroll eats two-thirds to three-quarters of an institutional budget. So stopping everything would mean either dipping substantially into the endowment to ensure that the college could continue to pay those people during the closed year, or furloughing or laying off nearly everyone.

Universities in USA

Even if faculty and staff members accepted broad furloughs as a way to save the institution — and even if no one picketed on campus or in town — the move could damage such a college in the long run: Talented faculty and staff members could leave for institutions that had found ways to stay open. And who knows if current and prospective students would stick around?

Hibernation “would make perfect sense if you had a long-term sustainable model, and you just had to ride out the storm to get back to doing what you were doing, the way you were doing it,” said Staisloff. “The truth is, across most higher ed, you don’t have a sustainable model.”

Crises present opportunities, as the saying goes. The hibernation strategy is a form of “hunker down,” and it would not lead to the essential transformations necessary for higher ed , Staisloff said.

To be sure, by September many colleges might be facing some of the toughest choices they have ever had to make — and will face them under duress. To Staisloff, the question is this: “Why not make the hard choices now that let you drive to a more sustainable future?”

Scott Carlson is a senior writer who explores where higher education is headed. Follow him on Twitter @carlsonics, or write him at

On Not Drawing Conclusions About Online Teaching Now — or Next Fall

By James M. Lang
Published in The Chronicle of Higher Education, May 2020

On March 18, a little over a week into the official beginning of stay-at-home orders in Massachusetts, I posted to Facebook an image of my third daughter with her acceptance letter from the college she plans to attend in the fall. (Yeah, I guess I’m that kind of parent.) At the time we anticipated being in quarantine for a few weeks, or perhaps a month or two. Conversations about whether colleges and universities would open online in the fall were still only a low background hum.

Once those conversations became louder, both in the public sphere and in our household, my daughter began to wonder whether she would be starting her college career remotely. “You’ll be on campus in the fall,” I assured her. “They’ll have figured out some way to deal with this by then.”

Now, another few weeks later, I’m much less certain that we’ll be loading up the car and dropping her off at a dorm room in late August. Based on the updates from my own college’s president, which include information about the deliberation process and the plans of other nearby institutions, it seems likely that many campuses will indeed be starting online this fall.

research5If they do, my daughter is contemplating whether she will defer for a semester or even a year. She has a part-time job that could resume when local businesses begin to reopen, and she thinks she would be able to increase her hours to close to full time. She doesn’t want to start her college experience online — and I understand that. While I will encourage her to start in the fall, I have no doubt that beginning her college career in a virtual classroom will be a diminished experience for her.

In saying that, I don’t mean to throw my voice in with the Jonathan Zimmermans of the world, who argue that online teaching is inherently inferior to face-to-face instruction. In a recent column, Zimmerman supported his thesis by pointing to the negative responses from students back in the 1950s to the first great experiment in distance learning — courses via television. “Social distancing is necessary to preserve good health,” Zimmerman wrote, “but it’s not good for education. And if you think otherwise, just ask your students.”

That essay provoked a storm of criticism on social media. Every online teacher or faculty developer I knew posted disparaging comments about it. For the most part I agreed with the criticism. Zimmerman’s decision to critique contemporary online learning by looking back at distance-learning efforts of an earlier era was an interesting but unconvincing choice. The technologies available to today’s online teachers are varied and robust enough to make a qualitative difference between distance-learning courses of 1950 and those of 2020.

Unconvincing though they might be, arguments like Zimmerman’s are finding purchase right now because of the negative responses that many faculty members and students have voiced during their first encounters with teaching and learning in a virtual classroom. Faculty members are feeling burned out by Zoom sessions, exhausted from the work of putting their course materials online, dissatisfied with their screen-mediated conversations with students who used to speak with them in their offices or after class. They miss the lively space of the in-person classroom.

So do their students — in some cases, much to their surprise. Students at my college are all assigned a faculty adviser; each semester I meet with my advisees to plan their courses for the coming semester. In April we met via Zoom, and before we got down to course business, I asked how their newly virtual classes were going. Every single one of them reported that they wished they were back on the campus in their face-to-face courses.


“I never thought I would say this,” one student replied, “but I miss being in class. It’s just not the same online.”

Experienced online teachers and faculty developers have rightly responded to those complaints by pointing out that we should hardly expect satisfaction with online teaching this spring semester, given that our transition to it was so rushed. Faculty members who had never before touched their college’s learning-management system suddenly had to master it in a week or two. Lack of familiarity with all of the digital tools available meant that too many instructors tried to replicate their face-to-face courses online, without considering the distinct challenges and opportunities raised by teaching in a different medium.

The implication of this argument — that online teaching did not go well in the spring semester because we were not well prepared for it — is that things will be better in the fall, if we have to teach all or part of our courses in a virtual classroom. After all, faculty members will have had a good six or eight weeks of online teaching under our belts, and most of us will have learned from that experience, right?

All around the world, faculty-development centers and online-teaching experts are revving up their engines for an intense summer of consulting and workshopping, preparing to help instructors teach more effectively online. And no doubt those efforts will improve the quality of remote instruction in the fall.

But if we are hoping that improved online teaching and learning will quiet the complaints, or assuage the concerns of students like my daughter, I think we will be sorely disappointed.

That is not because online courses are necessarily inferior to the face-to-face kind. Anyone who holds that position hasn’t read enough about online teaching, thought enough about the students who can benefit from it, or interacted enough with instructors who are doing amazing things in their online courses.

Two years ago I began working with just such an online teacher, Flower Darby, a senior instructional designer at Northern Arizona University, to translate the lessons of my bookSmall Teaching: Everyday Lessons From the Science of Learning, into a separate volumeSmall Teaching Online: Applying Learning Science in Online Classes.

I learned from her how online instruction can provide a gateway to higher education for those who would otherwise be denied access to it. I learned how online teachers with the right tech tools can work wonders in their medium, just as some teachers can work wonders in the physical classroom. Darby’s work convinced me that, for some students, online and hybrid courses can provide a learning experience every bit as robust as a face-to-face course.

For some students. And therein lies the rub.

The students who are voicing discontent with remote instruction this semester — or who, like my daughter, are not enthusiastic about the prospect of online learning in the fall — are the ones who made a deliberate choice to attend a physical campus, offering largely face-to-face courses. For those students, online learning will probably never be able to replicate what they want and expect from college. So we are likely to hear some level of dissatisfaction from them again in the summer and fall, no matter how much we improve our online teaching.

For many of those students, especially at residential colleges and universities, classroom learning forms only a part of the college experience. Much as I hate to admit it, those of us who teach can overestimate the role that classroom learning plays in college life. Outside of the classroom students are doing sports, acting in plays, meeting in advocacy groups, planning events, socializing, partying, dining, exercising, and more. All of those activities are parts of a holistic experience that they were seeking from their time in higher education.

Online learning gives them just one piece of that experience — and it’s the one that demands the most mental effort, and tends to provide the fewest opportunities for making friends, socializing, moving their bodies, and other activities that are essential to well-being.

Even on commuter campuses, a fully online experience robs students of the time they spend studying in the library or in the campus cafe, meeting with friends, talking to faculty members in office hours. It also prevents them from coming to campus to escape home situations that might not lend themselves to academic work, for one reason or another.

Online teaching and learning will always fail some proportion of our students, and perhaps the greater proportion, because it will be a lesser version of the college experience they were having or expecting. But we should not draw conclusions about the value of online teaching based on its appeal to a population of students who didn’t choose that mode of instruction.

As arguments and opinion pieces about online learning continue to appear in the coming months, two points are worth remembering:

  • First, we need to temper our expectations of remote instruction. Even if we are able to whip every faculty member up to speed on the latest digital teaching tools, we can never replicate online the full range of experiences that students have on a physical campus, including those who spend only a few hours a week there. We will hear complaints. We will lose some students, and we’ll have to wait for some who choose to defer.
  • Second, the dissatisfaction we will hear — about the spring or fall semesters — should not lead us to hasty conclusions about either face-to-face or online teaching. We need to avoid lazy generalizations that fail to take into account the infinite variations of students who are seeking a higher education.

Those of us who wind up in virtual classrooms again in the fall have an obligation to do everything we can to master the medium, and create the best possible online courses for our students. It’s OK to acknowledge that even our best efforts will not satisfy many students, without translating that acknowledgment into a universal dismissal of online teaching and without denigrating the work of the many thousands of faculty members who are providing transformative online-learning experiences for their students.

James M. Lang is a professor of English and director of the D’Amour Center for Teaching Excellence at Assumption College, in Worcester, Mass. He is the author of Small Teaching: Everyday Lessons From the Science of Learning. Follow him on Twitter at @LangOnCourse. Read his series for The Chronicle on Small Changes in Teaching here.

“Salesforce.ORG and Partners To Deliver More Than $36B in Community Benefits”

Re-posted from: Salesforce.ORG blog May 2020 @salesforceORG Community Benefit Report 2019 Infographic

Getting Higher Ed back to school

Ian Gotts, Co founder and CEO, Elements.cloudMay 2020

The COVID-19 impact

What is clear is that the future is not clear. But, what is certain is that schools that adapt to the new post-COVID19 world to stay engaged with their students will survive. Speed, relevance and safety are the critical metrics.

Every industry is impacted by COVD-19 and whilst Higher Education would seem to be perfectly poised to pivot to online learning it is far from that simple. By 2012 over 5 million students were taking at least one course online according to the Education Department. Now it is 30% of students according to But students still need to benefit from in-person education which is so valuable: intellectual debates don’t really work on Zoom, research opportunities in labs and libraries, and the student experience of mixing with others that have different perspectives and life experiences. A bachelors degree and therefore college attendance, is still also critically important when entering the labor market.

Finally, higher education is important to the U.S. economy. The sector employs about three million people and as recently as the 2017-18 school year poured over $600 billion of spending into the national economy. Colleges and universities are some of the most stable employers.


Higher Ed industry leaders now need to agree on what is required to get students and staff back to school, and keep them safe. This is in terms of people, process and technology. What teams need to be hired and trained. What are the new operational procedures including those to stop the spread of infection (test, trace and separate). What changes to existing apps and the new apps need to be implemented – at pace. Without these in place schools are going to stay shut, and many may not survive if they are faced to be just online learning facilities.

Schools need to embrace digital transformation. Taking these necessary steps will be difficult and costly, and it will force schools to innovate as they have never done before. But now it is not optional. COVID-19 is driving every industry at a relentless – but not unachievable – pace. For example, Sysco, the US food-distribution firm built an entire new supply chain and billing system to serve grocery stores in less than a week.

Brown University’s president, Christina Paxson, said in a New York Times Op-Ed last month that reopening campuses this fall “should be a national priority.” But opening up a school is not back to normal. Brian Solis, Global Innovation Evangelist at Salesforce describes this as the #NovelEconomy.

“Novel represents a new strain of market conditions that are not fully identified or understood. Thus, we have no pre-existing defenses or experience against this level of astonishing disruption. We were all simultaneously thrust into a melee of panic, fear, confusion, and disorder. There’s really no widespread expertise, playbooks, or best practices to guide us. Nor, is there a preventative business vaccine to protect us from this or future disruption…yet.”


Think of a university campus as a small city: it has its own roads, shops, residential areas, banks and transport links. It may be visited by tens of thousands of people each day.

A school is similar to a city in scale but not identical in terms of demographics and challenges. A school has teaching, administrative and operations staff who commute and then work alongside the same people. And then the study body who may stay on campus and by the nature of their classes, sports and parties are being constantly put in contact with lots of different people.

However, cities are so big with multiple stakeholders and politics getting consensus can be difficult. Most schools have control over their entire operation. They own all the buildings, they own all the networks and they have a captive audience in terms of the students, so they can become like a living lab.

But schools can learn from cities such as NYC who are implementing a coronavirus contact tracing program, designed to track down and test everyone who’s come into contact with anyone who tests positive for Covid-19. They will deploy a call center as well as a customer relationship and case management system that will help the city track potential cases and isolate people before they become sick.

“It will allow us to track every case, analyze the data constantly, keep the right information on each and every case, manage the whole process efficiently,” , Mayor Bill de Blasio said. “This is going to be a huge effort, just think how it grows and grows over the weeks, but it’s something that if we do right continually will constrain this disease.”

De Blasio announced that the city is implementing a “test and trace corps” that will be tasked with testing New Yorkers for the infection and tracing all cases and contacts of known positive infections. The goal is to hire 2,500 public health “foot soldiers” by June, who will be trained using the contact tracing program led by former Mayor Mike Bloomberg in partnership with Johns Hopkins University. There have been nearly 7,000 applications for the program already.

This gives some insight into the challenges facing schools. Alongside the changes to the overall operation of the schools – combining online and in-person classes, the space constraints of student separation, revenue drop due to lower enrollment, potential staff shortages due to illness or fear of returning to work, and adding student and employee wellness programs – you now have the added burden of running a track and trace operation. Finally, there is a level of governance or oversight that will be required, particularly at state schools, to prove that they are meeting standards and are allowed to continue to operate. This will be reliant on clear targets and good quality data.

Aerial view of crowd connected by lines

Testing and contact tracing programs is clearly the way forward. They will be required for University of California campuses to reopen in the fall, system president Janet Napolitano told CNBC on Friday.

“They will all have to meet minimum safety standards to reopen,” Napolitano said “If they’re going to reopen at all, they’re going to need to have a testing plan, a contact tracing plan, a quarantine plan, things of that sort.”


A core skill for schools is going to be change management – at pace. I am not suggesting that schools are not used to change, but it is probably not at this pace. This is the ability to rapidly change the operations (people, process, technology), whilst keeping everyone on the same page, realizing that the page could look different tomorrow. This level of change will put a huge strain on all areas of the organization. A business process-led approach supported by an agile app development cycle is required.

These core apps may need change; recruiting, admissions, development, payment processing, housing, etc .may undergo significant redesign and deployment. New track and trace apps that are a combination of cloud and mobile will need to be implemented rapidly into a new workforce. Ideally, these will need to be integrated into the existing student and personnel systems rather than have disparate data stores. This development work poses huge risks to highly customized and poorly documented systems.

There will also be the need for constant optimization as it will only be clear in the coming months how much of this is really working as planned. That requires both an agile operation but also a very agile app development lifecycle. Application development has become more agile, yet the implementation approach is still supported by a set of disparate tools and a patchwork of documents. This is the greatest source of friction that introduces risk and prevents rapid releases. The faster releases can be delivered, with confidence, the more agile the business. A recent study of 372 Salesforce implementations by 10K Advisors has shown that more frequent releases leads to a far higher ROI. COVID-19 is yet one more reason to drive faster release cycles. In some areas, particularly track and trace, rapid innovation may be required to stay ahead of the virus.


Ironically, the implementation lifecycle is in dire need of its own digital transformation to be able to support the larger digital transformation agenda. It must provide rigor and governance without losing the power and agility of these cloud-based apps.

Here are the 4 Phases of the implementation lifecycle: ANALYZE, BUILD, DELIVER, OPERATE.

Getting Higher Ed back to school

There is a natural flow of information around the lifecycle. Every phase uses information from earlier phases. Vital time and information is lost transferring from document to spreadsheet to app and then back to document. There is no reuse of information, in context. There is no impact analysis. There is no traceability or governance. Finally, this is a continuous cycle with multiple releases. The power is in building on the previous iteration.

Even the most sophisticated Salesforce customers will admit that they do not have the coordinated platform to support their agile implementation lifecycle. This is the greatest source of friction that introduces risk and prevents rapid releases. There are point solutions such as JIRA for User Stories and DevOps tools. For the rest of the implementation lifecycle teams rely on GoogleDocs/MSOffice and a few utilities with possibly some process diagrams thrown in.

Salesforce Orgs should become more valuable with age – rather like fine wine or classic sports cars. They should get incrementally better every hour, every day, every release

What is required is a platform designed to support rapid business change and application releases of Salesforce. It coordinates the development and reuse of all documentation around the lifecycle, and eliminates friction and improves collaboration at every phase. The platform comprises:

  • A list of requirements and user stories
  • A library of process diagrams
  • A metadata dictionary for every metadata item in the Salesforce Org, with metadata automated and manually added documentation
  • Library of end user help topics and feedback
More about this: Responding to COVD-19: Digital Transformation at pace, May 2020



Salesforce is at the heart of the digital transformation for schools. It has the core EDA applications. The apps (Workplace Command Center, Contact Tracing, Emergency Response Planning and Employee Wellness Assessment) require limited customization to support the higher education market. What works for a city can work for a school.

 Now the challenge is speed of implementation:

  • That will require an agile implementation lifecycle to ensure that the customization and integration of apps into the core infrastructure can have daily, not weekly or monthly releases. This includes a streamlined feedback cycle that triages and prioritizes requirements.
  • Adoption of apps at pace means point of need in-app training on both the operational processes but also on what data should be entered in fields. There is not time for instructor led training, particularly when the apps could be changing daily. Without in-app training, data accuracy and adoption will drop, which cannot be allowed to happen. New training content release cycles are minutes, not days or weeks.

 The enemies of speed are trust and governance.

  • Can the changes be made with confidence that they are not going to break the existing apps? Achieving this without sophisticated Org impact assessment tools is virtually impossible. In the speed of implementation, documentation on the customization cannot be ignored as this compromises future impact assessment.
  • Can the organization demonstrate that it is meeting the criteria for staying open? That will require staff to follow agreed, documented operational processes, use the apps as designed and most importantly provide accurate data.


Salesforce has the core EDA platform and apps that schools need to be able to transform themselves and demonstrate that they are a safe working and learning environment. has been designed as the platform to support an agile implementation lifecycle that can scale to the largest organizations worldwide. It enables rapid pace of change, with confidence, collaborative oversight and governance. It is tightly integrated into the Salesforce platform and is based on 20+ years of proven projects. It comes with process and training content that supports the new apps in Higher Ed.


For some colleges, missing the fall semester may be just the tip of the iceberg

Opinion by David M. Perry reposted from CNN

“All of our formerly reliable sources of revenue — tuition, research grants, clinical revenue, private philanthropy and income from our investments and endowment — will almost certainly be significantly and adversely affected.”       Appendix_Fig11

With this dire pronouncement, Duke University, the wealthy private school in North Carolina, announced a total hiring, building and salary freeze for the coming year.

Dozens of other universities have done likewise, shaken not only by the current costs associated with shutting down campuses and refunding student fees, but trying to prepare for an uncertain future. Yale University has already frozen hiring until June 2021 — more than a year away — predicting that things are only going to get worse. The Covid-19 pandemic has higher education teetering on a precipice.

The $2 trillion CARES act passed by Congress as an initial response to the economic devastation wrought by the pandemic included about $14 billion allocated for higher education, providing badly needed stabilization. Half of that money will provide emergency financial aid for students, while the other half is being dispersed to institutions to help them make up losses from unexpected coronavirus-related costs.

But without much more help from both state and federal governments — targeted to support those most in need — some schools are already openly considering delaying in-person classes until January 2021. Both public and private institutions may collapse, and the most vulnerable students are going to suffer.

Every industry is at risk in our struggling economy. Although it feels like the lockdown has been going on forever, we’re just at the start of sorting out the political, economic, social and cultural ramifications of this crisis.


Our colleges and universities will need more infusions of cash from both federal and state governments to make it through the disruptions that are yet to come, but it’s time to start thinking about how to go beyond bridge loans and stop pretending that we’ll ever get back to normal.

Whatever emerges in the world of higher education, it won’t look the same as it did when we all started the academic year last September.

What’s lost in the rush to online learning

It’s no secret that higher education was in crisis long before the pandemic. As things fall apart, we are going to be forced to rebuild, and thus we have an opportunity to create something more sustainable. The question now is whether we heighten pre-existing inequalities in academia for both workers and students or whether we can do better by leveling the playing field.

The next wave of funding should prioritize alleviating student debt and securing the employment status of the vast numbers of contingent workers that increasingly teach American college students.

We’re going to need a lot more money, but it’s not unprecedented. Instead, it’s time to break the cycle of austerity that has left our students, institution, and educators so vulnerable to crisis. We have to stop cobbling together educations based on unsustainable debt for students and low-paid, part-timers in the classroom.

Students deserve free, or at least debt-free, high-quality educations. Teachers and staff deserve full-time jobs at a living wage. Every penny should be subordinated to the core mission. Austerity, if it must come, must start at the top of the hierarchy.

Student LoansState funding for higher education has fallen for years, even though Americans generally believe that funding is growing. The key in this moment of crisis is not to focus on delivery methods (online learning doesn’t actually save any money), but the fundamentals of what and who a college is for.

John Warner, an expert in writing instruction and a commentator for Inside Higher Education, told me in an email that we must make “teaching and student support resilient even in the face of another disruption. The second step (which actually needs to also happen concurrently) is to reorient institutions around the mission of undergraduate education.”


Colleges consider the unthinkable: Dropping SAT and ACT requirements for next year’s applicants

Resiliency is key. Donna Carroll, president of Dominican University in the Chicago area (where I taught for over 10 years), told me that as we move forward, “the focus has to be on students and families. Higher ed needs to adapt and we will adapt. Stimulus funding in the short term will bridge us. But we will only all make it if students have the ability to persist and the economic wherewithal to do it.”

The recent leap into online learning at most schools has been impressive in some ways but, of course, uneven. Not all professors are fluent in online systems, not all universities have the IT infrastructure to support widespread online learning and not all students have access to the internet and reliable work spaces in their home. And all of this is before taking into account supporting people who actually catch the novel coronavirus.

Making it through the semester will be a triumph for all who reach the finish line, and not everyone will. But rushing to draw big conclusions about online education right now is like, as historian Kevin Gannon tweeted, “like deciding to give people a swimming test during a flood.” We just need to try and keep our head above water.

But then what? Summer classes have also moved mostly online, but if we can’t resume normal operations in the fall, will any students show up? Will fall term be canceled altogether?

Universities begin considering the possibility of canceling in-person classes until 2021

A recent survey by the educational consulting group Art & Science found that a significant number of would-be incoming freshmen are now considering a gap year. Any resulting significant reduction in class size would increase budget deficits already exacerbated by this spring’s pro-rated student fee refunds (typically for on-site services like dining, housing, recreation, and so forth) that all ethical schools are providing.


Meanwhile, states like Missouri are continuing a longstanding trend of reducing their educational budgets. Ben Miller at the Center for American Progress told me, for example, that Missouri is “going to withhold something like $76 million for the fiscal year that ends June 30, and [public colleges and universities in Missouri] are getting $66 million [from CARES] that’s not being used for emergency financial aid purposes.”

So the first wave of bailout funds won’t even cover the short-term funding clawed back by the state, let alone the refunds. The vice chancellor of finance at Mizzou, Rhonda Gibler, has acknowledged that layoffs may well follow. Carroll told me she’s worried that Illinois will not be able to meet its current financial aid obligations, and of course the students won’t have the money, leaving Dominican on the hook.

As a faculty member at Dominican, I was so proud of the work we did educating first-generation students (and often first-generation Americans), but I was always aware of the thin line between solvency and crushing debt in a mission-driven private institution.

Representative Ilhan Omar, the Democrat from Minnesota who represents the district housing my current employer, the University of Minnesota, agrees that the next phase of a higher education response should focus on students. Over email through a spokesperson, she said, “This crisis is showing the importance of fully funding public colleges and making them tuition-free and canceling and fully compensating for student loan debt.”

 It’s increasingly clear that the current crisis has at least a two-year timeframe. As we ramp up testing, treatment, and hopefully eventually a vaccine, we need to be prepared for waves of outbreak and brief localized shutdowns. CARES was a short-term panicked response. When Congress comes back — and they never should have left — it’s time to shift to long-term thinking and resiliency across categories.

For our colleges and universities, that means fighting for a simple principle that has long been abandoned in too much of our conversation around higher education. It’s a public good. Restoring public financial support will fuel that resiliency in the unpredictable decades to come.

David M. Perryis a freelance journalist covering politics, history, education, and disability rights.See a selection of Perry’s published pieces here.

Perry was a professor of Medieval History at Dominican University from 2006-2017. His scholarly work focuses on Venice, the Crusades, and the Mediterranean World. He’s the author of Sacred Plunder: Venice and the Aftermath of the Fourth Crusade (Penn State University Press, 2015). Now he works for the University of Minnesota, convincing students that studying history is good for them and good for their careers (it is!).

Perry and his wife Shannon, a food scientist, live in the Twin Cities area. Together, they are raising two children, one of whom has Down syndrome. Perry also plays in a high-energy Midwestern Irish Rock band – The ToolesBuy his CD here. Lately, he’s obsessed with brisket and ribs.

Testing Gen Z

Past generations have confronted their own crises with grit, resilience and a
commitment to the greater good, and we’re confident Gen Z will do the same.

April 20, 2020

Empty college

Across the country, college campuses are deserted. The students who ordinarily trade parkas and backpacks for shorts and Frisbees as spring temperatures rise now spend their days social distancing at home. Classes have gone online. Gone as well are all the activities outside the classroom that make residential college life such a rich coming-of-age experience.

Generation Z is being tested as never before. Past generations have confronted their own crises with grit, resilience and a commitment to the greater good. We are confident Gen Z will respond to this defining moment in their young lives and do the same.

In 1917, Hamilton College students helped make the world “safe for democracy.” Of the 46 seniors in the graduating class that year, 37 served in the war. Students from other classes dropped out of college to join them. Of the students who remained on campus, most enrolled in the Student Army Training Corps.

Just as the war ended and it seemed the world might return to normal, a different pandemic struck. The “Spanish flu” of 1918 killed at least 50 million people worldwide. Within two weeks of the outbreak, 50 students (one-fifth of the Hamilton student body) were infected. With medical services and hospitals in short supply, healthy students volunteered to assist sick students.

The flu hit Cornell University’s campus just before classes started. Within weeks, about 900 students were afflicted (at a time when most medical personnel were serving in World War I). About 37 of them died, as did Henry Davis, Cornell’s only instructor in anatomy. The number would have been far higher had it not been for the volunteers from the university, Ithaca and other nearby towns.

Several decades later, in World War II, hundreds of Hamilton students joined the fight, along with one of every three living Hamilton alumni. Many never returned. To facilitate student participation in the war effort, Hamilton revamped its academic calendar to enable students to finish their degrees in only two and a half years.

Following America’s declaration of war against Japan, Germany and Italy in December 1941, 4,500 undergraduates left Cornell for the armed forces. Countless other young Americans enlisted or were drafted instead of matriculating at Cornell as first-year students. Many but by no means all of these individuals completed their degrees when World War II ended. And a substantial number of Cornell faculty left Ithaca to do war-related research — including on radar, atomic bombs and other weapons — in this country and around the world. Their lives were reshaped and redefined, as well.

What became of these past generations? Most lived full and productive lives. Those who served in World War II we now call the Greatest Generation.

Today’s students find their education disrupted, loved ones at risk of illness and, in many cases, financial hardship. They must live in isolation, cut off from friends and classmates, and prepare themselves to start their careers, or try to, during what may be the worst job market since the Great Depression.

Today’s students are far from self-centered, self-indulgent and fragile. So far, the vast majority of students we see are looking out for each other, supporting their families and finding ways to serve their communities. Think, for example of the 8,000 volunteers at Invisible Hands, the organization founded by two 20-somethings in New York City, who deliver groceries to people who should not or cannot leave their homes and apartments. Or the medical students who are graduating early and treating patients in coronavirus hotspots. Or the undergraduates, many of them completing their own coursework online, who are tutoring middle school and high school students on FaceTime and Zoom.

Their stories have yet to be told. When this crisis passes, as it surely will, Gen Z, we believe, may well get the gratitude of a grateful nation.

Higher education in fall 2020: three pandemic scenarios

How will the pandemic change higher education?

I’ve been exploring and researching this for months now on this blogwith the Future Trends Forumon Twitterwith my Patreon supporters, through a series of interviews and webinars, and more.  For today’s post, I’d like to build on that work to offer some scenarios for how higher education could develop by fall semester 2020.

The main driver shaping each one is three models of the pandemic itself.  In late March I published a set of scenarios for how COVID-19 could play out.  They included:

  1. The Hubei Model: A Single, Short Wave
  2. Viral Waves: Long Duration, Uneven Impacts
  3. The Long Plague

The titles are fairly explanatory.  Each one differs in terms of length, shape, casualties, and overall impact. For more background you can read the post.

What might higher education look like in each different pandemic future?  I suggest:

  1. The Post-Pandemic Campus
  2. COVID Fall
  3. Toggle Term

Caveats: in this post I am exploring future possibilities.  I am not endorsing any particular analysis, political party, or course of action.  I am also not assessing relative likelihood of these scenarios.

My primary target is United States academia, because of circumstances.  Yet I think what follows can be applied to most nations, with some tweaking depending on local circumstances.

Each of these scenarios is a sketch.  I try to cover as much institutional ground as I can, touching on curriculum, research, libraries, sports, etc.  If you can think of an academic aspect I’ve missed – excellent!  The comment box is yours.  The idea of these scenarios is not to be the final word, but to spark thought.



In fall 2020 the great pandemic has largely passed.  Government after government has published figured showing infections and deaths dropping down to or below acceptable flu levels, after spikes and crises in springtime.  Economies and civic life are rebounding as people increasingly return to face-to-face activities, albeit not to pre-COVID extent.  It is a time of rebuilding and some reflection.

Boyle After the plague

Colleges and universities have re-opened for in-person classes and research.  The CDC has issued cautious guidance allowing this; state health authorities have published similar if varied notices. Students, staff, and faculty have returned, albeit in lower numbers than before.

The reason for those lower numbers is that some people are not wholly convinced COVID-19 has passed.  Some do not trust various authorities: WHO, national governments, national health authorities, science, mass media.

Others are skeptical that campuses are safe.  They point to conflicting scientific reports about the ability of the virus to life on physical surfaces.  They worry about social networks, knowing well how readily students network with each other: stock figures here include Liberty University transfer students and the notorious spring breakers.  They consider and share stories of coronavirus infections on campus or among campus populations in early 2020, as well as well intentioned acts like one college opening its residence halls to infected homeless people.

Colleges and universities  – especially those with large residential student populations – go to great pains to assuage these concerns.  They station expanded security forces around a perimeter, checking any person who would set foot within with forehead thermometers.  Schools publish detailed accounts of how thoroughly they have cleaned every single campus space, from libraries to classrooms and especially dorms.  They share safety certificates issued by various medical authorities.  They maintain infection-tracking databases of each student, staff member, and professor, and do not publicize the contents or their conclusions.  Some campuses publish detailed augmented reality content aimed at attracting tech-interested folks to return.

This is not entirely successful.  Some students, staff, and faculty prefer to work from home (and there is a flurry of legal and policy action around this preference).  The great migration online from February-May established that this could be done successfully, at least to a minimal baseline.  As a result every campus activity simultaneously blends face-to-face with online presence.  Each on-site seminar, lecture, staff meeting, interview, faculty senate, football game, theatrical performance, and presentation is paired with video screens, microphones, cameras, and text chat for remote participants.  There is no settled name for this practice, but people try all kinds of terms: bimodal, blended, amphibious.

Research is similarly bimodal, as not all researchers and support staff are willing to return to labs and libraries.  Resources are allocated differently than they were in 2019, as pandemic and recovery fields are deemed more urgent.  Digital work of all kinds is on the rise, from telepresence manipulation to analyses of big data.

Pedagogy is more blended than ever, as a given class tends to contain a mix of in-person and remote students and faculty members.  A wide range of pedagogical practices are in play, from asynchronous LMS discussion to live video discussion and virtual reality explorations.  Some faculty work to expand their abilities in this hybrid space, while others fall back on pre-plague habits.

Enrollment in classes and majors has changed somewhat since 2019-2020.  The full range of medical fields is more popular.  Business and economics are even more popular than ever, given the needs of rebuilding nations.  Political science and government enjoy larger enrollments given the extensive concerns about surveillance, governance, and geopolitics.  Classes about COVID-19 or about pandemics in general see higher numbers, from history to literature and anthropology.

Some staff enjoy greater respect than they once held.  IT, instructional design, and academic computing staff are quietly lionized for their heroic work.  Librarians impress by their ability to work from within or beyond their building’s walls.

Depending on campus culture, some faculty members have become stars for their ability to teach in 2020’s new environment.  Students and/or administrators may showcase them.  Alternatively, or at the same time, some professors may be celebrated for their return to form in face-to-face class.

The combination of these changes means colleges and universities are suffering a financial hit as compared with calendar 2019.  Springtime’s sudden migration online, refunds, deep cleaning, expanded security etc. all added costs.  Overall enrollment is down (depending on the campus) and some discount their tuition, cutting revenue back.  Institutions try all kinds of strategies to stay afloat: early retirements, flatlining professional development, hiring and/or firing adjuncts, increasing student workers, furloughs, cutting maintenance, suspending retirement payments.  Academic program prioritization exercises and the occasional declaration of financial exigency enable administrations to remove tenure-track faculty.  State governments urge some campus closures and/or mergers.

Liberal arts colleges welcome the change back to face to face experience, as they were often predisposed against remote instruction.  Public universities struggle to balance drops in both enrollment and state support, then struggle to transform their curricula in a hurry.  In contrast community colleges pivot rapidly to the pandemic curriculum; some enjoy rising enrollments where and when unemployment runs high.  Some research universities are able to bank on their role in addressing the pandemic through R&D plus local medical support.



In autumn 2020 COVID-19 still ravages nations.  There is no sign of a vaccine on the horizon.  No effective therapy has been devised beyond keeping infected people as comfortable as possible while their body struggles.  New outbreaks occur worldwide.  The total number of cases is upward of 500 million and the death toll stands somewhere between 1 and 4 million, although numbers are contested and variable.  The global economy is in a depression, even including nations relatively free from the pandemic.

Nations and communities differ on how they are handling the pandemic politically, socially, and culturally.  Some governments are heading towards collapse, unable to organize relief.  Others are heading towards or have achieved authoritarian powers, conducting massive surveillance, and using both digital technologies and analog force to control their populations.  Old and new religious movements have gained adherents, while science’s reputation sinks by the week.

campus autumn Quinn Dombrowski

Higher education is entirely online in this scenario.  Classes, student life, research, and service all occur digitally.  Orientation, Greek life, sports, glee club are online.  So are advising, counseling, internships, and career placement.  Paracurricular centers – writing labs, quantitative literary centers, research help, etc. – all have a digital presence.

Research is entirely online, with varied impacts depending on discipline and institutional type.  Many humans find themselves thrown on which physical texts they have immediate access to, along with the digital world.

Pedagogies vary across institutions, academic units, and instructors.  One school of thought calls for choosing technology based on student inequalities, so advises using asynchronous, low-bandwidth tools, including email, texting, mailed CDs and DVDs, along with print materials.  Opposed to them is a practice based on using technology to maximize interpersonal presence.  These faculty and support staff prefer synchronous and rich media experiences: high definition video, videoconferencing, virtual and extended reality.  Between these two poles stretch a wide range of practices.

Post-secondary curriculum has changed significantly since winter 2019-2020.  The pandemic drives the lion’s share of offered classes, majors, and enrollment.  Medical, premed, allied health, and public health are at the center of most campus catalogs.  Economics and politics follow closely, gaining as their respective fields of study degrade in the world.  Some faculty members and department leaders in other fields strive to partake of this shift, offering classes, minors, majors, certificates, and courses of graduate study that link their intellectual domains to COVID-19: pandemic studies, anthropology of plagues, plague literature, epidemics in history, plagues in Italy then and now, etc.

In contrast, all other fields tend to shrink, partly due to students voting with their feet.  Partly this is due to a powerful sense of national urgency, expressed through state governments, activist trustees, and a range of funders: grant agencies, foundations, philanthropic individuals, the most influential alumni.

A more powerful reason driving universities and colleges to rearrange their curricula isStudent Records because most campuses are suffering badly from financial stresses.  I’ve articulated the reasons for this previously.  They include the many impacts on a campus from a generally rotten economy, higher costs from making the transition online, losses from lower enrollments, and possible tuition cuts.  In emergency mode many colleges and universities will see pivoting to a COVID curriculum as a survival path. Other departments can experience personnel cuts, mergers with other departments, or being simply closed as this academic program prioritization proceeds.

Colleges and universities will try other methods to raise funds.  Given unused campus spaces, they may offer buildings for emergency purposes and for fees.  Some may organize inter-campus collaborations to share resources of all kinds, from operational services to digital collections and classes.  Enterprising campuses may offer their digital capacities to help other schools or organizations.

There may well be fewer colleges and universities by December 2020 as some see their economic viability dwindling.  Mergers – which are really acquisitions – will be floated.  Multi-campus systems and state governments can press for consolidations.  Closures will occur.

Town-gown relations can be very stressed in this scenario.  Rising dislike of science can play out with local resentment of scientific faculty.  Economic crisis stokes jealousy in both directions.  Cultural differences can become flashpoints.

Liberal arts colleges struggle with what they see as inferior or dematerialized instruction, and develop what they deem a uniquely liberal arts approach to the COVID fall term.  Public universities struggle to survive; those with advanced online learning capacity are better positioned.  Community colleges follow a similar pattern, depending on how much online teaching they can offer; some enjoy rising enrollments where and when unemployment runs high.  Research universities focus attention on their role in addressing the pandemic through R&D plus providing some local medical support.


In this scenario fall 2020 is marked by rapidly succeeding viral waves.  A country or region can be relatively free of COVID-19 for a time, then the pandemic roars back, driven by mutation or a new infection vector.  Nations and cities toggle between states of lockdown and openness, depending on their sense of epidemiological data and practical feasibility.  Economies are chaotic as market prices and supplies fluctuate.

on off switchColleges and universities are now in perpetual crisis mode.  Their leadership teams scan pandemic news minutely, aided by their medical faculty, looking for signs of when they can welcome their community back on site, and when to send them away and flip the switch to entirely online work.

Curricula have shifted towards the pandemic as in our previous two scenarios, but with a greater emphasis on organizational transformation and crisis management.

Classes now exist in a kind of double life, as faculty have created both online and face-to-face materials and plans for the entire semester.  Lectures are prerecorded when possible, either for classic flipped classrooms or for remote instruction.

Campus services are similarly structured.  Libraries, academic advising, mental health counseling, wellness centers, financial aid, bursars, work/study, career services and more are all ready to engage the community through in-person or on-line services.

IT departments work at a fever pitch.  They must be ready to respond to very fast demands for changing delivery modes.  Academic computing and instructional design staff work constantly with faculty to help maximize the pedagogical affordances of both modes.

Not all members of a campus community can toggle back and forth in their own lives.  Some students decide to stay at home and engage remotely, while others manage to live on campus housing in quarantine circumstances.  Some faculty and staff prefer to work from home.  The end result by semester’s end is closer to the bimodal form we saw in scenario 1.

Toggling back and forth can be exhausting to all involved.  Calls to pick one and stick with it will rise.

Town-gown relations are actually quite close in this scenario, as both entities experience the same toggle process.  Universities and local authorities cooperate in this ongoing disaster management process.

Liberal arts colleges experience the toggle as a swap between two very different qualities of experience, preferring the in-person form.  Public university systems pool resources and expand their collaborative planning, achieving something close to “systemness.”  Community colleges focus their work on online teaching, but arrange syllabi to take advantage of in-person learning to do hands-on work.  Research universities focus on what they discover in the medical world, as well as their analyses of organizational transformation in this extraordinary time.

What do you make of these scenarios?  How do you see your institution or yourself in each one?

Higher Ed is in Crisis – Collaboration Will be the Key to Survival

by Terri Givens – Empowering institutions and academics to manage crisis through inclusive leadership, strategic planning & collaboration (bio below article)


The headlines and thought pieces keep coming in higher ed. The first wave of the crisis focused on getting teaching online and getting students off campus. The second wave of the crisis has focused on the financial impact of the crisis. From giving students refunds on housing and meals, enrollment declines to state budget cuts, campuses are bracing for the possibility of students returning in January of 2021 – and trying to decide how they will deliver classes in the Fall (e.g., Boston University Coronavirus Plan Includes Possible January 2021 Reopening). The next wave of the crisis needs to be a focus on strategic planning and preparing for an uncertain future.

Many institutions were already facing an existential crisis, as I have written previously (see The Future of Higher Education: Taking on an Existential Crisis). The uncertainty of the current situation makes it difficult to determine what the best next steps are, we are in the eye of the storm. However, what may be most important is creating an infrastructure that will allow institutions to share resources, including online teaching resources, and finding ways to collaborate that will help reduce costs while maintaining quality and preserving the residential experience that many students desire.

An article from McKinsey and Company lays out the possible scenarios that institutions may be facing in the fall, asking the question: Coronavirus: How should US higher education plan for an uncertain future? The article suggests that institutions should create “nerve centers” to work on issues related to the crisis, but I would argue that these nerve centers should be created at the regional level. For example, institutions in the Bay Area, or in cities like Portland could meet to discuss best practices, potential for sharing online courses, and ways to keep students safe.

It is difficult for institutions to collaborate, given that they are often in direct competition for students. However, this crisis is an opportunity to consider ways that institutions can help each other. As my college Rob Gibson noted in a comment, “Campuses are often tantamount to mini-cities. Police. Health care. Utilities. Even auto-pools. Can’t some of that be shared with the private sector?” The answer is yes – institutions need to coordinate with local businesses and large corporations to find ways to work together on finding solutions to some of the local issues that we are all facing, while sharing best practices that can help all be more productive.

Higher ed has experts that can be called on to help local businesses and institutions can support their employees as they may be trying to learn new skills. As Paul LeBlanc notes in a Forbes article, “For this economic crisis, America needs a higher education industry that is quickly responsive to workforce needs, that can get people retooled in two and four months, not years, that is affordable, and that better accommodates the working adults and under-served populations too often neglected by four-year colleges and universities.”

Yes, we will still need the residential college, but in the near term we need institutions that are willing to work together to provide the best possible opportunities that we can manage under the financial constraints we will have for the foreseeable future. This is a time to break down silos and find ways to do what is best for the greater good. Let’s pool our resources, learn new skills (e.g., strategic planning) and find ways to work better, together.

Terri Givens is the CEO and Founder of the Center for Higher Education Leadership. She has more than 30 years of success in higher education, politics, international affairs, and non-profits. Leveraging extensive experience running universities and bridging the gap between business and the community, she is a valuable asset for educational institutions and companies of various sizes and stages of growth who are in need of expert assistance with strategic planning, budget analysis or handling diversity issues in recruitment and retention. Her broad areas of expertise include leadership, research, writing, analyzing institutional impacts on immigration and integration policy, problem-solving, quantitative analysis, networking, mentorship and community outreach. She is an accomplished speaker and uses her platform to develop leaders with an understanding of the importance of diversity and encourages personal growth through empathy.

Terri has held leadership positions as Vice Provost at University of Texas at Austin and Provost of Menlo College (first African American and woman); professorships at University of Texas at Austin, and University of Washington. She was the founding director at the Center for European Studies at the University of Texas and led the university’s efforts in Mexico and Latin America as Vice Provost for International Activities. At Menlo College she has led faculty and staff in developing programs for first generation students, updating curriculum and infrastructure for evidence-based assessment.

Terri is the author/editor of books and articles on immigration policy, European politics and security. Her most recent book is Legislating Equality: The Politics of Anti-discrimination Policy in Europe. Dr. Givens is currently working on a book designed to provide readers with a life cycle perspective on the challenges that a women of color face in our divided society with the goal of teaching empathy to a broad audience.

The Future of Higher Education: Taking on an Existential Crisis

research5by Terri Givens Public speaker, empowering academic leaders with info & a supportive community for improving management and leadership

The transition to online courses is only one of the ways that the COVID-19 crisis is having an impact on higher education. As discussion forums have popped up for faculty and staff to share information and resources around the shift to teaching online, there has been less attention paid to the fiscal impact of the crisis. 

In the last few weeks, we have seen several higher education institutions announce closures, including two here in the San Francisco Bay area. Even before the arrival of COVID-19 in the U.S., many institutions were facing an existential crisis. This was exemplified by the response to a study that was ultimately never published. 

Last November, Nick Ducoff and Sabrina Manville of Edmit cancelled their plan to provide a public database they had developed with researchers at Brandeis University, after significant pushback from some colleges. In an opinion piece at Inside Higher Ed, they noted that they “sought to release a modeling tool we created by using publicly available data to project how many years private colleges have until they could run out of money and close. We planned to share the projections and underlying qualitative and quantitative data, taken from federal sources, on Github, a platform for open-source projects. Inside Higher Ed was prepared to publish a news article on the projections.”

The Problem

As a former provost of a small nonprofit college, I can understand the financial issues that the current crisis is creating for higher education. The fact that many colleges and universities are facing an existential crisis has been an ongoing discussion, highlighted by Clayton Christensen and Michael Horn in an oft-quoted New York Times editorial which compared traditional universities to sailing ships, as they faced the advent of steamships:

“Still, the theory predicts that, be it steam or online education, existing consumers will ultimately adopt the disruption, and a host of struggling colleges and universities — the bottom 25 percent of every tier, we predict — will disappear or merge in the next 10 to 15 years. Already traditional universities are showing the strains of a broken business model, reflecting demand and pricing pressures previously unheard-of in higher education.”

Their prediction seems to be overstated, but there have been a series of colleges that have closed in the last few years. It hasn’t only been the lack of innovation that has led to the demise of small colleges, changing demographics and declining enrollment have played an important role in their demise, creating financial exigencies from which they couldn’t recover. In fact, for-profit colleges that were some of the first to embrace innovation have also been some of the first to go, as explained by Phil Hill in a blog post examining Christensen’s prediction: 

“The gist of the data analysis was that the vast majority of closures have been from the for-profit sector (which did not seem to be in [the]scope of Christensen’s comments, but we can’t be sure), but the predictions could be realistic if including for-profits but not if applied only to nonprofit institutions.”

Bernard Bull, himself the president of a struggling college that is on probation with its accreditor, has a another perspective in a recent blog post:

“Followers of my work know that I’ve challenged the college closure prediction, not because I think it is inaccurate, but because I think a more nuanced prediction could help us create a more hopeful future for learning beyond high school. I don’t doubt or question that many colleges will struggle and close, especially those resistant to fundamental changes. We already see that happening, and if they are not able to provide enough value to warrant the attendance of students and the support of donors, perhaps it is time for them to close.”

The last few years have been frustrating for someone like me, who is a strong believer in the value of higher education. Some campuses are embracing innovation, while others struggle to manage declining enrollments or are slow in updating their curriculum. Parents and employers are worried that college isn’t preparing students for the workplace, and companies that are trying to innovate with educational technology are having trouble convincing strapped campuses that their innovations are needed.

Universities in USA IoT higher Ed

An important part of the solution for higher education is to focus on leadership. It will take strong, well-informed leaders to take on the challenges facing higher ed. Since I returned to the San Francisco Bay area five years ago, I have immersed myself in the latest innovations in higher ed, attending conferences, visiting college campuses in the U.S. and Canada, and developing The Center for Higher Education Leadership.

In order to meet the needs of today’s and tomorrow’s students, higher ed institutions will need to focus on the following areas, with strategic planning as the first step, incorporating the following components into any plan:

  • Developing contingencies based on projections of the impact of the coronavirus
  • Financial benchmarking and working on developing plans to maintain fiscal viability
  • Ensuring appropriate communication with students, faculty, staff, parents and other stakeholders
  • Ongoing training for faculty in teaching online
  • Focusing on diversity in admissions and faculty recruitment
  • Programming to improve retention and graduation rates
  • Planning for working with re-entry and adult students
  • Improving the situation for adjuncts and creating faculty lines focused on teaching
  • Working with employers, particularly alumni, to get feedback on curriculum
  • Encouraging faculty connections with the community and developing links to high schools and college success programs.

CHEL is ready to help institutions tackle these challenges. Over the next few months we are providing free resources including our ongoing webinars and coronavirus website. Our courses on strategic planning and assessment are available on our website. We have developed a financial benchmarking project with the Peer Review Portal which will be an important resource for institutions preparing for accreditation and program review. 

What has become clear over the past week in particular is that institutions will need help in addressing the range of issues they are facing. Along with the financial review and our courses, we have a team of consultants available to provide their expertise. 

What is most important throughout this crisis is to ensure that we all remain healthy and that we have compassion and empathy for those around us. Our mission is to help ensure that leaders have the tools they need to be successful. We are here to listen and support you — please reach out, anytime.

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