Page 37 - BusinessWest April 27, 2020
P. 37

 Colleges She noted
make it more affordable and accessible.
“What’s happening now isn’t online learning; it’s emergency remote learning. I don’t want people to
think that someone having to pivot and put together course materials with one or two weeks notice to deliver for the second half of the semester is the bar of online learning,” said Royal, who has a Ph.D. in instructional design and spent years heading up dis- tance learning for a large community college in Ohio.
“I think of the potential for more innovative learn- ing designs, highly interactive simulation labs aug- mented in virtual reality — those are more sophis- ticated than what we see in online courses now,”
she added. “I believe the promise of online learning
the nation has ever experienced in the past, even the Great Recession. People are dealing with so much else in their lives, they’re not able to turn their attention to education and workforce development.”
Continued from page 9
the trend
learned that we can move pretty quickly,” Cook said. “Sometimes higher education gets painted as slow to respond, slow to adapt, but we’ve demonstrated that we can move quickly and with a degree of grace when we need to.”
Dumay said lessons learned from the COVID-19 shutdown might change college life in America in ways both good and bad. On the positive side, while online learning can’t replicate the important interper- sonal development built by campus life, going online has demonstrated there is a bigger place than college leaders might have imagined for remote programs.
“This will alleviate a lot of the fears people have about the efficacy of online learning. They’ll realize
becomes noticeable about 12 months after a recession
begins, and, indeed, 2010 — the height of the Great Recession, which began in late 2008 — was HCC’s most recent enrollment peak; as the economy has improved, enrollment has steadily declined.
The question, both she and Cook said, is whether the same rules apply in the current environment, which is not a slow-building recession, but a full-stop economic shutdown that could, in turn, lead to an extended economic lull.
“When you think of recessions we’ve had in the past, we built toward them, but this is so sudden, with high numbers of people filing for unemploy- ment,” Royal said. “It’s very unexpected, and we’re not sure how it’s going to play out.”
One wild card in the mix is what she called the “emotional recovery” from what’s happening now. “People have been jarred to their core; they’re con- cerned about their own safety and concerned about engaging in the world.”
That said, HCC was already planning for a 5% enrollment reduction this fall — largely due to demo- graphic trends — but is now thinking in terms of 10%. “We have to plan for that contingency, and we have to deliver a balanced budget to the trustees. So that’s what we’re looking at.”
If enrollment does decline by 15% nationally, that represents a $23 billion revenue loss for colleges — money that will be only partly offset by government relief funds. For example, more than 80 colleges and universities in Massachusetts will collectively receive more than $270 million as part of a federal relief package intended to help schools and students dur- ing the pandemic. UMass Amherst tops that list with an estimated $18.3 million in aid. Nationally, the Higher Education Relief Fund allocated $12.5 billion to 5,125 colleges and universities.
Collectively, the 15 community colleges in Massa- chusetts will receive $48.8 million in aid — certainly a help, but not enough to ease enrollment concerns going forward. Cook agreed with Royal that com- munity colleges shouldn’t assume the sort of enroll- ment bump they usually see during recessions, even though they offer a more affordable model than pri- vate, residential colleges.
“This isn’t like any economic downturn the nation has ever experienced in the past, even the Great Recession,” he said. “Because of the public-health impact on people’s lives, it’s hard to assume enroll- ment will be up in the near future. People are deal- ing with so much else in their lives, they’re not able to turn their attention to education and workforce development.”
Future Shock
If there’s a positive lesson from the pandemic
to bring into the future, Royal said, it’s the massive potential of technology to streamline education and
This isn’t like any economic downturn
they can do it where it works, so we can have a lot more learning in the online environment,” he said. “But that doesn’t mean education will move completely online. The residential experi- ence is a rite of passage for the growth of a lot of American youth. It would be a loss if we didn’t return to that at some point in the future.”
More worrisome, Dumay said, is the poten- tial this crisis has to shut down many schools completely.
“It may be that some don’t make it and close their doors,” he said, noting that the most vulnerable colleges include many that serve lower-income, first-generation students, often
      will be realized someday, but that’s going to require more inclusion and investment and professional development to really expose our educators to the possibilities.”
Some good can come out of every crisis, Leary said, citing in particular the rise of telemedicine, which will likely get a permanent boost from the COVID-19 crisis, as well as companies learning the value of remote work, lower emissions generating cleaner air in cities right now, and, yes, a greater focus on how to not only teach students remotely, but do it better.
Another takeaway, Royal said, might be a new focus on process improvement that extends well beyond remote learning. “If something takes six steps but we’ve learned how to do it in three, why are we going back to six? So, when we open our doors again, we’ll be looking at how we can streamline processes — and how to offer more virtual services in general.”
She’s not speaking about classes here; rather, it’s the routine business of paying bills, getting forms signed, and other administrative functions. “They might want to do that remotely, at 8 in the evening, at their computer, while they’re thinking about it. So, I see a lot of room for process improvement and streamlining student services overall.”
STCC is also learning it can offer value through streamlining its admissions, enrollment, and finan- cial-aid operations online, “to make it more seam- less for our students to work through the experience of getting into college and staying with the college,” Cook said — even while continuing to promote the face-to-face value of its campus advising center.
Meanwhile, through the online transition, “we’ve
students of color. “If higher education became less accessible, that would be an unfortunate casualty of this pandemic.”
Grade: Incomplete
The presidents who spoke with BusinessWest had a lot to say — much, much more than could fit in this story — but, while their comments were insightful, they were in many cases less than definitive. After
all, it’s hard to speak definitively about a pandemic — and an economic shutdown — that offer no sure timeline.
“Within our student body and our employees, people are really hoping for clarity — that’s the ele- ment in short supply right now,” Cook said. “As we continue to work with these health guidelines, as we flatten the curve and pay attention to social distanc- ing, when and how will that allow us to get back to some version of where our value lies — leveraging on-campus resources like labs and simulation?
“No one knows when we’ll get back to leveraging those resources,” he added, “but there’s still a lot of hope around that — and worry, because those are incredible resources for our students.”
In short, it’s impossible to deliver all the value a college offers over a computer screen, from miles away. In the meantime, everyone is learning valuable lessons — which is, after all, the point of higher edu- cation. u
Joseph Bednar can be reached at [email protected]
Continued from page 12
field. It is now closed. So too is the Basketball Hall of Fame, which has undergone extensive renovations and was looking forward to a huge year as it inducts one of its most prestigious classes of honorees this fall.
The YMCA of Greater Springfield, which recently moved into Tower Square amid considerable fanfare as
it started an intriguing chapter in its life, has seen both its fitness center and
daycare center, its two largest revenue producers, shut down within just a month or two of opening.
At Union Station, the rail service that was starting to pick up steam has suffered a tremendous setback. People are now reluctant to get on trains, and even if they weren’t reluctant, there are really no places the train can take them — most workplaces are shut down, and so is every cultural attraction in New York.
Meanwhile, the restaurants that
were such a big part of the city’s rebirth are now quiet, except for takeout, and many of the new businesses that had moved onto Bridge Street and other locations are locked down with their employees working from home — if they’re still working.
The lockdown, or shutdown, or whatever one wants to call it, isn’t even a month old yet. But it seems like an eternity. And for Springfield, it could not have come at a worse time — not that there’s ever a good time for a
The pieces were starting to fall into
the place, and the outlook was gener- ally quite positive.
And now?
We have to hope that momentum is all we’ve lost, and that we haven’t lost too much of that precious commod- ity.u
George O'Brien is the editor of BusinessWest.
APRIL 27, 2020 37

   35   36   37   38   39