Postsecondary Success Notes | Reopen to what?


As fall approaches, conversation in the higher ed community is turning to reopening – the plans, the preparations, the precautions – all with a wary eye toward an uncertain future. There are still as many questions as there are answers.

My colleague Allan Golston recently posed one of those questions in remarks to a forum hosted by The Atlantic: “Reopen to what?” How can our immediate response to this crisis position colleges and universities to live up to their aspiration to be the “great equalizer” and close opportunity gaps by race and income?

While it’s impossible to know the future, we all want to be ready for it. That’s why one of our priorities for our COVID-19 response is institutional viability – equipping campuses, systems, and states with the best available data to inform critical decisions about sustainability and assist severely impacted institutions and students. Our investments include:

  • Developing and deploying analytical tools to create enrollment and financial scenarios that can help leaders gauge potential impact on student access and success – and to make decisions designed to protect both, especially for students of color, students from low-income backgrounds, and first-generation students.
  • Sharing knowledge and services developed by universities with extensive experience in online/hybrid learning and serving students displaced by institutional disruption.

There will be disruption this fall, but disruption can lead to transformation. Nearly nine in 10 college presidents said in a recent survey that they see this time as an opportunity to reset or even transform. We and our partners are committed to taking what we have learned about transformation so far and sharing it as widely as we can.

Reopen to what? My hope is that we answer that question with new ways of thinking about and delivering the education today’s students deserve, and provide the opportunity that will serve as a fitting tribute to the work and legacy of leaders such as C.T. Vivian and John Lewis, both of whom we remember this week – and always.

Patrick Methvin

Institutional Viability: Equipping Higher Ed for an Uncertain Future

The postsecondary landscape was already facing challenges before the onset of COVID-19, with leading observers and analysts pointing to fiscal and demographic trends that signaled difficult choices ahead for colleges across the nation.

The pandemic will likely accelerate and magnify those trends. A number of institutions will face fundamental questions about their missions, operating models, and how to serve today’s students against the backdrop of downsizing, consolidation, and potential closure.

Our work in this area focuses on a combination of data for decision-making and services designed to help vulnerable institutions and displaced students.

Tools and Resources:

  • Sorenson Impact Center at the University of Utah is leading a project to use the latest data science tools to provide real time modeling and analysis of demographic changes, student shifts, and their potential impact on access and success, particularly for low-income and first-generation students and students of color. Additionally, leading practitioners and scholars such as Harry Williams of the Thurgood Marshall College Fund and Shaun Harper of the University of Southern California will draw on these analyses to address equity issues arising from emerging trends.
  • State Higher Education Executive Officers (SHEEO), working with the National Center for Higher Education Management Systems (NCHEMS), has developed an interactive modeling tool for state higher education agencies to use in developing fiscal scenarios and their impact on institutional capacity to serve students.

Institutional and Student Support:

  • Institutions that currently operate at national scale and have experience with student displacement, such as Western Governors University, Southern New Hampshire University, and Arizona State University, will identify opportunities for sharing knowledge, tools, and services to aid students displaced by the pandemic and its effects. They will do the same for colleges and universities facing significant challenges in an online/hybrid environment.

Urban Scholars Program: A New Accelerated Degree

Paul Quinn College and the Minerva Project recently announced a partnership to create the Urban Scholars Program, an accelerated interdisciplinary bachelor’s degree program offered through Paul Quinn that focuses on three areas of inequity facing urban communities: wealth, justice, and health care. The intensive three-year program combines year-round virtual coursework and paid professional development designed to cover a portion of the cost of attendance.