By: Beatrice Silva

3 min read August 2020 — As COVID-19 cases continue to rise, so does the number of universities keeping their physical doors shut this school year. The University of Notre Dame Princeton University, and Rutgers-Camden Business School are just some of the institutes that announced their decision to go fully online. 

Just as businesses needed to pivot during the pandemic and subsequent recession, educational institutions also had to find a way to adapt. “It is an unprecedented event that took us all by surprise,” Dean Monica Adya of Rutgers-Camden Business School told Invest: South Jersey. “We established a COVID-19 task force that includes all of my cabinet members, to look at how to proceed. One of the first things we did was to look at our emergency management plan that tackles infectious diseases, among other things. We focused on operational and communication measures. The former is relative to academic and business continuity. As Gov. (Phil) Murphy enacted the executive order stating that no one was to come to campus, we moved to an online format for all classes. Fortunately, several of our programs were already entirely online. Many of our students were already taking a combination of online and in-class programs, making them familiar with the online platform. We are sparing no resources or action plans to make sure our students get through this semester. We are also launching discussions about recovery, how we are going to help people who are out of work to get back into the workforce, and what specific programs and certificates they will require for that to happen in the shortest of terms.” 

Most students experienced a taste of distant learning back in April when schools were forced to close after lockdowns were issued across the United States. However, that doesn’t make it any easier for undergraduates, postgraduates, and faculty members to pick up where they left off. “We had some challenges on the student side because many students, although we think of them as a digital generation, had difficulty making the switch to online learning.  We’ve worked through much of this but it took some time,” Mike Mittelman, president of Salus University, told Invest: Philadelphia.

Innovation and technology play a huge role in how higher education continues to operate. Virtual learning experiences have replaced physical classrooms and face to face lectures. The new format has left some students feeling overwhelmed and quite frankly ripped off. At Rutgers University, more than 30,000 people have signed a petition started in July calling for an elimination of fees and a 20 percent tuition cut, according to The New York Times

Student housing is another topic of debate in the education community. While some institutional leaders don’t believe it’s safe, others argue that students don’t have anywhere else to go.  Schools, like The University of Pennsylvania and Temple University, are allowing a limited number of students back on their grounds but under strict conditions. Most schools that are letting students live in dorm rooms or attend in-person classes are actively enforcing social distancing, face masks and have provided COVID-19 tests. At Drexel University, international students or students who are experiencing financial hardships will be the only ones allowed to live on campus. 

Along with the many challenges the pandemic caused, it also created new opportunities. COVID-19 pushed educational institutions out of their comfort zones. To stay in business, universities adapted to new technologies and even formed a few alliances along the way. “This whole industry has shifted very, very quickly, so that shows that there’s flexibility, it shows that there’s resilience,” John Fry, president of Drexel University, told the Philadelphia Business Journal. “Those adaptations are incredibly valuable assets and institutions should hold on to that and not say, ‘Once this is over, we can go back to the way it was.’ Going back to the way it was, I think, is not a good idea.”