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In this episode, Phil Hill, Jeanette Wiseman, and Kevin Kelly discuss multiple campus and system plans for Fall 2020, with many schools going public with reopening (hybrid) or staying online announcements over the past week.


  • Phil Hill
  • Jeanette Wiseman
  • Kevin Kelly


Phil: Welcome back to COVID Transitions. I’m Phil Hill and I’m here with Jeanette Wiseman and Kevin Kelly for another week of discussions about higher education and the changes we’re going through. This week, somewhat of a follow up to our discussion last week. Last week, we noted that now that Cal State University, with its four hundred and eighty thousand students, announced it was going to be mostly online for fall 2020. We were expecting to hear quite a few announcements coming forward, that you’d get a lot more, as Kevin was describing, if somebody is out on the dance floor now, other people can get out there. Indeed, we are starting to see quite a bit of news coming out. So we wanted to cover what’s happening with the news and what the changes are. It’s certainly been an exciting week from what I’ve seen, news wise, if you can call this type of information exciting.

Jeanette: Well, lordy, momma there’s not very much consistency. It doesn’t seem like, that’s for sure. With all that’s expense.

Phil: That’s part of the excitement. A lot of these you couldn’t have predicted or certainly I couldn’t have predicted the way they went. Let’s run through some of the news and just get your thoughts on what’s actually happening. So last week, we covered with California that there were some preliminary news about the University of California system, much more definitive news from Cal State system and then the California budget. Well, there are two things that have happened this week. First of all, the California community college system. Kevin, describe what you saw there and what do we know about why they’re actually making the decision they’re making?

Kevin: Well, I know originally the chancellor had said that it was still going to be up to the colleges in one of those Wednesday webinars that they hold to discuss COVID circumstances. They had basically set it up as such. But I think in the meantime, it’s been a little bit more guidance to have more virtual.

Phil: Yeah, I think we’ve seen a lot of the campuses already coming out saying that they were going to be virtual for fall 2020. Then the chancellor came out on Monday and essentially said he was endorsing the decision that most colleges were going to be virtual. That’s a way I had seen the news represented. I found it interesting that part of the rationale was simply finances. We’re community colleges, we recognize we probably can’t afford some of the mitigation requirements that we expect to see if we were going to try to open the in-person classes. Just the ability to afford plexiglass and social distancing and testing and all the changes seem to be a major factor there.

Jeanette: I also think, though, from a community college standpoint, strategically it makes sense. I think that not only California, but beyond being able, community college has two things going for it. It’s usually commuter plays. There’s not a lot of community colleges that have a big resident population.

It’s a place where it would be easy to go online. Then additionally and I think we saw some of the news reports this week that also talked about this that students aren’t sure what they’re going to do next year. Go to their local community college and take it online at such a cost savings from a typical university that from a strategic financial standpoint, not dismissing the fact that the mitigation around testing and all the things that you would have to do to have in-person classes on community college makes sense to have it online, because that’s where students can go and they can get a discount or  a deal, if you will. So I think across the country, I can see how that would be the strategy for any community college.

Kevin: Well, I think we’ve heard that community colleges expect to see higher enrollment as a result. But what is interesting to me, a family friend who is a freshman this year at a college out east said he was interested in possibly taking classes at a community college just because it would be a lower cost. But the challenge for him is at the school where he is, the classes for his major begin right away. So he would be losing the interactions with the professors and students who would be part of this professional network later on in life. So he’s battling between cost savings and missing out on opportunities, including internships and things like that.

Phil: There was an article that  captured some of these issues, at Inside Higher Ed, that essentially was pointing out that most of the community college systems that are coming out with announcements now that with the exception of Indiana or that’s the primary exception, that a lot of community colleges are planning on being virtual fall 2020 and likely follows the argument that you’re making Jeanette about that sector. It’s making sense, enrollment’s up, but this is a place a lot of people can go and there are structural reasons. It can make sense. But that  makes the Indiana Community College, which is known as Ivy Tech, somewhat of an interesting decision there. They seem to be the outlier among statewide community college systems on what their plan is because they want to go face to face.

Jeanette: So I don’t even know how to respond to Ivy Tech because I wonder what the thinking was on there. What I’m looking forward to having maybe better understanding, which we don’t know yet, is I really hope that a lot of the universities that are losing some of their enrollment to the community colleges because of all of this recognize this is a very different part of time and will be accepting of those transfer credits when the time comes. And I think that’s something that I wish I saw more collaboration between community colleges and universities, even within the state, to ensure that those transfer credits would happen. Just in a general sense is I think that’s the one fear is that, you’re going to start this, maybe you’re going to continue education, but with any community colleges also that fear as your credits aren’t going to transfer.

Kevin: Well, and the students themselves. This week, the student Senate for the California Community Colleges had a webinar about the results of the survey they put out. They had almost seventeen hundred students complete it from across the state of California and they were concerned about the fact that they’re having to drop classes because of either work circumstances, financial circumstances or academic situations where they just can’t focus on that many courses in an online format. They’re worried about transferability. They’re worried about impacting their time to graduation and moving on to four year campuses. One of the students was really cogent when she said community colleges are one of the last chances for social mobility. Yet we’re probably the worst off because of this COVID situation where we’re struggling to keep up. We’re struggling to stay motivated. One student said that she didn’t receive her Chromebook from her campus for four weeks after the campus reopened. So she had to borrow different laptops from different people each week so that she could continue to study. So it’s true that campuses and entire systems are making recommendations and choices. But now the work is going to have to start to make sure that students can be successful in those formats.

Phil: Now, if we look at the opposite side of the spectrum, at least for public systems and sticking with California, because that’s what we do in California, is talk about ourselves. The University of California system came out with an announcement I think surprised a lot of people. The Mercury News was describing Janet Napolitano, who’s the president of the system, said that every campus will be open and offering instruction this fall despite the coronavirus outbreak and certainly appreciated her endorsing our recent blog post and podcasts coverage that we’re seeing the hybridization of higher education. So I really appreciate her helping us out. But she particularly said the question will be how much of that instruction is in person versus how much is done remotely? Essentially, it’s a system wide hybrid approach that they’re announcing for the University of California. But where the minimum is there will be open campuses with face to face as as a strong component of it. That, to a lot of people, I think was surprising, particularly given that the other two public systems in California made not the opposite to selection, but they are going mostly virtual for the fall. Were you guys surprised?

Jeanette: I was surprised. I was really surprised.

Kevin: I was, too. And I think the bigger challenge is going to be the housing and all the different ramifications of saying we’re going to be face to face.

Jeanette: I mean, these are big campuses with lots of people. So that was what I’m just struggling with. As , we’ve seen some of the universities. I can’t remember which one. Maybe you guys can. There was one university that I know I read about that’s looking at just the dates that they’ll forgo the fall break and they’ll be ending before Thanksgiving.  there’s some shifts. Do you guys remember what university announced that?

Phil: Yeah. That was University of South Carolina came out with a plan. And University of Notre Dame also came out with a similar plan. What they both said is OK, we’re going to start early. We’re not going to do fall break and we’re going to try to wrap up anything face to face by Thanksgiving.

Jeanette: Who knows what’s going to happen in the fall. But at least there’s some kind of plan in place that would make me feel better as a parent or as a student. OK, this makes sense, this is what we’re going to do. So for me, just that the whole UC system, with the huge size of some of those campuses are just saying, yeah, we’re going to go online. While their sister, the Cal State system is saying no. , we’re going to go online, mostly not in person. Just seems, I don’t know.

No one’s coordinating. I guess it’s another thing for California as great as you guys think you are. It seems like the Cal State, UC system and the California community colleges are not coordinating anything which goes back to my whole thing, are any of these credits going to transfer? This is  a certain time period. Doesn’t seem like things are coordinated to me. That’s my personal opinion.

Phil: No. No, I agree with you. It is interesting that we’re not seeing a lot of coordination within the state so far. I don’t think I’ve seen much of that type of analysis on. OK, we’re going to do this while you guys do this and we’re going to boost up our transfer. I haven’t seen that type of coordination, but in terms of contingency planning, I want to go back to Notre Dame. They’re not just saying that. They’re essentially trying to plan around a potential or likely second peak of the virus in the fall. So they want to get things done by Thanksgiving, but at the same time, they’re not just saying, let’s go fully face to face and see what can happen.

They actually wrote that their faculty have been asked to prepare both courses in-person and through remote instruction. So their form of hybrid. Part of that is for students who are in quarantine and can’t come to campus, but also so that if they have to change their plans in the middle of the term and go online, they’re prepared, they already have the classes in place. One thing I have to say about them. They’re certainly not just making a choice and hoping that things work out. They seem to have some contingency planning built in as well. I think that’s an important factor, is not just making a decision so that students know whether there’s anything residential or not, but having contingencies in place for a second peak or the situation changing in the fall,

Jeanette: I mean from a consumer standpoint. Again, I know I keep going back to that, but it makes sense, as a parent, as a student, before you use the money to room and board, sign the rental agreement for your lease for that next semester. You want to have some understanding what you’re getting into. And I think what sometimes to me is lost. I mean, is how expensive a higher education degree is and the cost not only for the tuition and the books. But just the cost of getting a kid there, the rental, everything that goes into it. With right now, so many people in the world just strapped financially, it just seems like you need that information even if you’re at a private school.

Phil: Unfortunately, my youngest daughter’s at a private school where I think they’re taking the let’s hope and wait and see attitude, which, as you’re pointing out, that has implications, including finances, because I’m looking what they’re doing. They’re planning on opening up face to face. But in their communications, I don’t see any contingency planning. So it’s not just how do you get there, but are they going to end up having to disrupt themselves in the middle of the fall and have another crisis on their hands because they didn’t do something like Notre Dame is doing, which is saying we’re ready for both situations.

Jeanette: Right. Then you look at that and you’re comparing it. I mean, Phil, in your case, your daughter isn’t that far away from you. So that’s  I would say, something that you can be somewhat secure about. If you were sending a kid across the country and the choice is to either do that and invest in that money and the school’s not really communicating exactly what their plans are or, hey, maybe you need to either take a gap year or let’s just focus on the community college near the house and you can start school or you can continue your education.

I know I would do as a parent, especially if I was continuing, if the the online education that they got in the spring wasn’t at least reactive and in somewhat supportive of the students, which I think we were hearing a lot of. I think that there were people that you can recognize. Especially as being in educational technology, we can recognize, hey, this is a really special situation. What were they really trying to do to make sure that the students were supported and getting through the semester? If I didn’t feel that, I don’t know if I’d want to send my kid back to the school, at least for the next year. I would have a lot of reservations.

Kevin: Well I think, Jeanette, The point you’re making is a good one, because as campuses don’t make decisions or make them public, parents and students are going to make their own decisions. It may not include their institution where they were this spring. So, yeah, you’re right in that ambiguity is going to lead to decisions that are made independent of what the college ends up deciding to do.

Phil: Well, speaking of that, another great segue, if you look at schools, not just the sector of the school, but if you look at schools that are known for online education and that they seem to have a plan in place and they know how to offer this. Arizona State University is obviously one of the main ones that people always look to. It’s interesting, they’re getting a huge surge of students for the summer at the very least. Their enrollment at ASU is up more than 16 percent from last summer. Newly admitted students taking summer courses actually increased from 74 percent from last year. There’s  community colleges we’ve mentioned and in California, there’s been quite a bit of work with online education, but also the cap cost factor. It really surprised me just how much ASU has increased enrollment for the summer and they seem to be pulling students in during the summer. I don’t know if these are high school cross enrollment or if these are students saying, hey, I can’t get a job anyway in the summer, so I might as well start my college career early. What do you guys make of those huge increases?

Jeanette: I mean, what the first thing that comes to my head is those are some motivated kids or motivated students because right now I’m still I can’t wait till it’s time to get a drink tonight. So I am  just impressed by the motivation. I will say that I did hear from a friend of mine who’s a professor at the University of New Mexico that the UNM enrollment for fall is up by 17 percent.

Phil: Really?

Jeanette: Yeah. I forgot to tell you guys that, but, yeah, that’s quite a bit. I think that that’s probably just my guess is that people that aren’t going to be leaving, that were going to other probably out of state universities are planning on staying here. Maybe there’s in-state students that are deciding to go to UNM. But my guess is New Mexico residents plan on staying in Albuquerque.

Kevin: I think international students are going to be another group to watch because they may or may not feel like they can come over here for an uncertain situation. They may be seeking online courses to support continuing their studies at a specific place.

Phil: Yeah. That makes your a lot of sense.

Jeanette: I was going to say around the international students, I saw that statistically the the national average is, I think 10 percent. We’ve been working with the university, a private university, where that is way higher. I would say that maybe there’s 20 percent domestic students at that university. I’m curious what’s going to happen there? There’s definitely not going to be the students on campus. I don’t know if they have the online presence to to do what they need to do for those students.

Kevin: I was going to say what’s interesting is the higher education data sharing consortium, IGDS, had a survey with about 40 institutions and the highest ranking satisfaction with campus response were international students. They were surmising in their summary that it might be because they were taking extra efforts to make sure that those international students had somewhere to stay and something to eat while they were going through this situation. On the flip side, the people who were the least supported were non binary students of color and dramatically different response to the questions about how they felt about their institution, how well supported they felt. Again, we have to start looking at the divides that are being created on equity lines when we go through different crises like this.

Phil: One thing we need to maybe question as well is the actual surveys that are coming out. Here we are talking about enrollment is going to increase in the community colleges. Hey, it might even be stable or even increase in Cal. State. University of New Mexico, which is a research university, they’re seeing an increased enrollment projection for the fall. ASU is seeing dramatic increase during the summer. I get each one of those. You could make the argument while here’s why they’re different. At certain point, we need to question, are these surveys right. So many of these quick surveys that have come out predicting 10 to 30 percent enrollment decreases across the whole sector. We shouldn’t take that those are gospel. This might be like the IHME model out of University Washington for Coronavirus transmission. They’ve had to revise that model as they get new data. So I guess we do need to be careful of making the assumption that the surveys are right. Let’s just figure out where it’s going to head. The surveys could have a bad model built into them, or students can change their mind.

Kevin: Yeah, I don’t think we can trust anything until we actually get to the fall and see what people end up doing.

Phil: Yeah, it’s going to be interesting to see as we roll into the fall. Right now, I wouldn’t say that we can’t trust anything I would say. Everything we look at, you have to at least acknowledge the uncertainty of it, because even the enrollment estimates from individual schools, there are indicators, but we can’t treat them as definitive until we get into the fall. Jeanette and I were talking yesterday with somebody. They made the point saying, I think you did Jeanette saying, boy, be interesting to do the same survey in late September and see if students are still within these schools. There’s going to be a lot more demand on you better be giving us a real education in the fall time.

Jeanette: Right. I think those surveys, especially the student based surveys or any survey, I think one of the ways that I always want to find out is like, how were they collected? Is it come take my survey and here’s a link. I think right there you’re going to see people that have more time, that are more motivated. They’re going to click on that link which aren’t necessarily gathering a really good survey of who’s interested or who are the. audience for students. Kevin brought up the equity issue. Are they really looking to talk to those students that are working are financially strained or those people even clicking on those links? Are we getting that information from those students? I don’t know.

Kevin: That was a cognitive of the president of the students and into the California community colleges during that webinar, in his opening statement said, hey, we’re happy that sixteen hundred and ninety people filled out this survey. He said essential workers, people who are taking care of family at home, people who don’t have access to the Internet or devices, didn’t participate in this. So we do have to expect that the numbers that are reported may be even higher than what are represented in the data. So you’re absolutely right.

Phil: These cases, I think what would help them out? It’s good that people are providing surveys and getting the information out there. I think we would do well if they would describe their built in biases better. Kids know surveys going to be perfect, but I think it’d be better to say this survey has this built-In bias based on certain student groups not having the the ability or motivation to sign in, or call out that could be a bias. I wish they would just at least be more descriptive of the data that they’re collecting.

Jeanette: Yeah, definitely. That would be nice.

Kevin: Finally enough. I’m analyzing about eight different surveys right now for a blog post. I’ll go back and see if they have their protocols clearly defined. In some cases, it’s just results that are shown in an info graphic and you can’t get to the actual survey instrument or the raw data. In other cases, they have the protocol pretty much lined up. These are ranging from five hundred students to twenty five thousand students participating in these surveys, either at one institution or across the world.

Phil: I’m glad that people are putting these out. It just this is the area I think that could improve the most in the short term, as it described, not just dry academic issues, but make it clear that this is affecting public policy and media discussion. So make sure anything you report, you describe. Here’s the bias that we know about.

Jeanette: Well, I was I’m wondering how much the surveys really are affecting decisions because these decisions are all over the place. Going back to where we started, are they really looking at the surveys, the institutions, or are tech vendors really looking at this or are people just making at this point? Is it just really gut level decisions. What they think are going to happen?

Phil: Well, I did sit in on one president’s counsel that I think we mentioned earlier that was looking at planning and scenarios moving forward. And it was meant to inform what their decision is. They haven’t come public with what they’re going to do. They absolutely had been reading surveys and had noted some of these enrollment, projected enrollment declines as part of their thinking. It was only one piece of the puzzle. In my mind, I do think that the surveys have some influence on the decisions being made.

Jeanette: Well, then you just completely ruined my point.

Phil: I’m sorry, I didn’t mean to do that. Well, I don’t think that my was an anecdote. So you can treat it as the exception that proves your rule.

Jeanette: I have to say that it just doesn’t seem if we’re just taking California, which I know you guys want to focus on all the time, but if we’re just taking that, there’s surveys that are happening there and the decisions have not been consistent.

Phil: That is true. All right. So let’s take the one that might have surprised me the most. NYU, New York University and the heart of Manhattan, the epicenter of this, the pandemic within the U.S.. NYU is planning on opening in the fall in person. Now, obviously, as we’ve been saying, it’s really a hybrid decision. It’s not fully face to face, but to me, that has to be the most difficult environment to be able to open and have any kind of face to face presence for residents, for classes. You’re in the middle of New York. You’re a large university. That one. I’m not saying they’re wrong, certainly. It did surprise me when I saw that news came out about NYU’s reopening plans.

Jeanette: Yeah. , the thing about NYU is that just it’s an urban campus. It’s fairly spread out not only within a couple of city blocks, but they have parts of their campus and Brooklyn. Parts of it is in the city. So controlling that even seems really difficult.

Phil: While the big decentralized nature, though, might actually be somewhat of their strength, and you’re not just making a centralized decision, but each individual school out there can based on where they’re physically located and the types of courses they’re doing that because they’re decentralized in that nature, that they could have different approaches to manage it.

Kevin: That’s going to make it really hard for the students. They’re going off to take transportation from one place or not have classes on campus at another place. It’s almost like UCLA when they used to have 30 different versions of Moodle. It’s putting the burden on the students again.

Phil: Well, don’t forget, UCLA, what you’re also had 30 different Wi-Fi systems which helped out with the Moodle situation.

Jeanette: I don’t know. So for NYU, I just think that they they must have really thought that through to make that announcement. We just don’t know what that thinking process was because they seemed like they are aware of the constraints that they have and issues they have. It makes me think of something else. I remember reading at the very beginning of the pandemic, the schools closing down is that there were some parents that were complaining that they were in Manhattan and their college students were in different locations and probably New England or wherever, these nice little towns. When the school shut down on a campuses shut down, the students had to actually go back to a more dangerous location. They were upset about that this the schools made these decisions to shut down, but sending their students back wasn’t safer necessarily.

I’m wondering if there are any places where people are thinking, hey, no, you’re going you’re going on campus. They better have in-person classes because we want you there. We think it’s going to be safer if there is another outbreak. Just throwing that thought out there.

Kevin: I think it could be money, because if you look at Texas A&M decision, they were saying in the article that the system would’ve lost about one hundred and sixteen million dollars through August thirty first without federal aid. I think campuses are also thinking about the money aspect of it.

Phil: Yeah, no, they absolutely have to think about the economics,

Jeanette: All those places it just built brand new dorms that are required. Does they have to be thinking like, okay, are we just going to be just losing money on this brand new dorm everyone’s required to stay in.

Phil: I want to go back to. Well, you because you asked you brought up the point about they had to have thought this through and this gets to what we’ve been writing about. It’s the biggest trend or the biggest theme that I think it’s important for people to understand that when any of these campuses are opening with some  face to face, they’re doing it in a hybrid nature almost always. So in NYU, they described the testing that they’re doing. But besides that, they explicitly are saying, like Notre Dame, the university will give students the option to attend classes remotely and is designing ways for students to spread their classes over two to three semesters without additional tuition cost. They’re also developing a go local option, which will let students study at one of the international NYU sites. So have a location to go to, even if it’s not in the New York set of campuses. There’s this hybrid approach. A lot of it is student based and a lot of these cases. I think, Kevin, we need to come up with Nomen cloture like hy-flex, but to relate to students overall. So not just within a course context, but overall where students get to choose the face to face versus online in the mix that’s in there, because that’s the most I think it’s one of the big trends that we’re starting to see is a lot of schools saying, OK, students are going to have to choose. It could be for the entire college experience, not just within courses.

Kevin: That whole local thing that you brought up, a colleague at UC Berkeley, brought up the same concept where campuses may start having satellite centers in different parts of the country or the world so that students can go to a closer location. The way Jeanette was talking about New Mexico residents possibly going to UNM instead of another school because it’s closer to home and they have that safety net of being closer by if things shut down.

Phil: There’s some very interesting trends that we’re seeing. The biggest thing that’s caught me over the past week is that the floodgates are opening up. It seems like Cal State was the most significant announcement that happened. I’m not saying everything’s because of Cal State, but it helped accelerate the trend of colleges need to announce what their plans are for fall 2020. There was a survey mentioned at Inside Higher Ed where students are saying they want schools to make a choice so that they know how to do their planning. There’s a lot of pressure on these schools to make a choice soon. And essentially, it’s coming down to all virtual or hybrid. Those are the two things that schools are looking at. There are very few, if any, saying, oh, we’re fully going back to the way we were in fall 2019. I’m sure some will, but that is not the majority of the cases. The majority of, quote unquote, reopening is happening with a hybrid approach. That’s just a common theme I think we’re going to see a lot more of.

We’ll just have to see. I think all of us need to take a break in the U.S. and enjoy Memorial Day weekend. And wherever you are, enjoy the weekend. I think next week will likely be another set of interesting news that we want to look at and also be looking forward for Kevin’s post about the student surveys, because there’s a lot of information coming out, out that way. That will be interesting to digest. Thanks for your time and Kevin and Janette. Great talking to you guys.

Kevin: Jeanette, go get that drink.