As COVID-19 Batters Higher Education, a Proposal to Move Online Fast

By Alex Parnia

The opening of brick-and-mortar colleges and universities in fall 2020 will present a challenge due to the absence of a vaccine for COVID-19.

Healthcare professionals and politicians have been warning us to get used to a new normal based on COVID-19 being with us for quite some time until an effective vaccine is introduced. In the meantime, all governments can do is slow the pace of infection to prevent overburdening healthcare systems and hope for herd immunity to take place among the world’s more than 7 billion people.

With the reality of COVID-19 in mind, can we imagine clustering students, faculty and staff in residence halls, small classrooms, lecture halls and offices in fall 2020? What if COVID-19 flares up on campuses? What if colleges and universities open in fall 2020, and students, faculty and staff start dying from COVID-19?

Colleges and universities will have to endure unimaginable liability if they reopen too soon; insurance companies will be reluctant to insure them. If such companies decide to provide their services, they will charge high premiums. Therefore, it is imperative that colleges and universities act responsibly, regardless of their size, location and population (traditional versus adult students) and offer online courses until a vaccine becomes available.

This transition from traditional in-person learning to online learning will be relatively painless for colleges and universities that had already started to explore the digital future of education a few years ago and that already had the finances to move to an online environment. However, it will be an exceedingly difficult and painful transition for small- to medium-sized colleges and universities that have retained their traditional brick-and-mortar delivery of education and campuses. The leadership of such colleges and universities will not be able to make adaptations to allow for online learning on their own and in time for fall 2020.

The leadership of traditional brick-and-mortar campuses must start thinking outside the box. Budgets for 2020-21 will be lean. One option to consider is to hire thought leaders (including former presidents and college administrators) and partners (with a proven track record in preparing and moving institutions online) and pay them during the summer months on a contingency fee basis, with compensation based on results and deliverables once new revenue streams are realized.

Partners could be companies that are willing to consider revenue-sharing once institutions start generating revenue from online courses.

Both consultants and companies will be hired once they agree on receiving payments on the rear-end and once the institution has started offering the online courses and enrolled students.

These leaders and partners must be vetted carefully to find the perfect match for each institution’s needs to overcome the financial challenges of the 2020-21 academic year and beyond.

Alex Parnia is the former president of Pacific Oaks College and Children’s School and currently serves as president of MSM-USA, an international company serving academic institutions in Canada, the U.S., U.K. and the European Union.




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