How Higher Ed Leadership Responded to the COVID-19 Crisis
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How University and College Leadership Responded to the COVID-19 Crisis

  • 3 Min Read

In June 2020, Inside Higher Ed partnered with Hanover Research to administer a survey to university/college presidents and chancellors; its content was about the participants’ perceptions of and responses to the COVID-19 crisis at their institution. The survey received a total of 97 responses from a number of American higher ed institutions. This particular survey was the third of its kind, as similar surveys were conducted in March and April 2020.

Overall Concerns

Below are a few key findings regarding leadership’s overall sentiments and concerns toward the circumstances, as revealed in June:

  • Ninety-six percent of respondents were somewhat or very concerned about unbudgeted financial costs related to COVID-19.
  • Student mental health (marked by 91%) was ranked as a top concern, followed by employee physical health (82%), employee mental health (81%), and student physical health (80%).
  • Unfortunately, only 17% of respondents reported having been somewhat or extremely successful at actually ensuring their students’ emotional well-being.
  • Fifty-seven percent of respondents were somewhat or very concerned about their institution’s technological readiness to conduct online learning.

Responding to COVID-19

You may be curious to know what steps higher ed institutions took to transition from in-person classes to online learning during the spring/summer, and whether leaders felt that they were successful in these endeavors.

  • A statistically significant 81% of respondents in June rated their institution as very successful or extremely successful at having technology support available, compared to March (only 41%) and April (only 46%).
  • Fifty-five percent of respondents felt very successful or extremely successful at ensuring that academic standards remained high—again, a statistically significant difference from the 21% in March and 28% in April. You will see in the complete report that many additional factors (training faculty, ensuring equitable access, maintaining student engagement, and more) were all significantly higher in June than earlier in the spring. You will also find responses related to a variety of specific actions taken by these institutions at that time.

Future Actions

When it comes to future actions, many institutions are of course still looking to make resource investments and workforce adjustments. For example, 55% of respondents reported that their institution is somewhat likely or very likely to invest in emergency response resources, and 53% are preparing for additional physical or mental health resources. Other potential solutions ranked in the complete report include reducing the workforce, freezing or reducing benefits, delaying admissions deadlines, and revising admissions standards. The study also outlines the likelihood of taking future measures to cut costs, such as reducing extracurricular offerings, increasing tuition rates, decreasing financial aid, and more.

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In addition, respondents’ institutions reacted to nationwide requests for increased diversity in curriculum and hiring policies. At least 50% of respondents stated that their institution would be implementing curricular changes (55%), mandating diversity training for employees (52%), or adopting new diversity goals for faculty and staff hiring (51%) and for student enrollment (21%). Other initiatives considered include expanding student recruiting into underserved communities, mandating interviewing of Black candidates for job openings, and cutting ties to local police departments.

Take a look at the complete report to view additional findings and responses across the March, April, and June 2020 surveys.

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