The Impact of COVID-19 on Higher Education



Can’t be playing for the economy of now.


Frank Luntz, American pollster


I believe Mr. Luntz’s quote could also apply to higher education. For a variety of valid reasons, higher education administrators have been focusing on the higher education of now. I have focused my research and attention on higher education in the future and have been pleased to share some of my insights and predictions with you for the past five months. 

I am honored to report that my white paper, The Reimagined University, has been written and will be published by University World News, in three installments.

The September 12th issue will list the reasons for creating a Reimagined University.

The September 19th issue will list the residuals left in the wake of the pandemic on higher education.

The September 26th issue will present the opportunities of COVID-19 on higher education in the future.

You can access the entire white paper by logging onto:


Although it is too soon to report definitive figures for the number of students worldwide who took advantage of online learning during the pandemic, there is some evidence to suggest that higher education has been made accessible to an increased number of students from the safety and security of their homes. The potential for making higher education less selective and more egalitarian is positive residual of the pandemic.

Meric Gertler, president of the University of Toronto wrote: There is the potential for the worldwide embrace of virtual interaction to have a kind of leveling effect.


Chinese exports soared reaching their second-highest level ever in 2020. China’s share of global exports rose nearly 20% in the April to June quarter.

Chinese universities are surging in international university rankings. Tsinghua University, in a recent Times Higher Education’ ranking report of 1,250 universities in 86 countries, is for the first time, in the top 20 of all universities.

This year, China is having the largest increase in students listing the country as their top educational choice destination. An increase of 121% is expected from academic year 2020 to 2021. Final fall semester enrollment will reveal the actual percentage increase.


Ho Chi Minh city is promoting itself as a regional financial hub. The city’s first phase as a financial center is to provide financial services to neighboring countries, such as Laos, Cambodia, and Myanmar. The following phase is to provide services to a wider number of countries in southeast Asia.

Viet Nam has been one of a few countries that so far, seems to have weathered the devastation of COVID-19. I would watch this country for increased international student mobility.  


In August 2020, the United States announced it is now requiring all Confucius Institutes in the United States to register as a foreign mission, a destination that requires that the organization regularly provide information to the State Department about its personnel, recruiting, funding, and operations in the US.

Australia is investigating university links and ties with China. The government’s probe of Chinese interference centers around technology transfer.

We cannot separate the geopolitical tensions between China and these two countries from future Chinese student enrollments in the United States and Australia. I suspect that in both countries fewer Chinese students will enroll in the fall 2020 semester. I will share actual enrollment numbers as they become available.


Salman Khan, founder of the Khan Academy, reported this week a 300% increase since February in the number of users.  Increased usage from students in South Korea was Mr. Kham’s first indication that something had changed. He was unaware of COVID-19 in February.  


In his article on the future of the workplace, Frank Luntz urges readers to forget the word work and focus on career. Lifelong learning is essential, he writes and students are being more selective about the courses they take and the majors they pursue. Short courses, boot camps, certificate programs in digital marketing and medical services, for example, are the types of programs gaining traction among higher education learners.

In the Reimagined University, chief innovation officers, chief financial officers, academic deans and career counselors, have been successful in adding shorter courses and certificate programs during the academic year. 



To date, 231 class action lawsuits have been filed by students and parents in the United States to receive a reduction in tuition and fee charges. The rationale for the lawsuits is based on the same tuition being charged for online learning and  in-person instruction during the Spring 2020 semester.

In the Reimagined University, the chief financial officer created a differential pricing structure based on the method of instruction. No need for a lawsuit.


Change is coming, whether you like it or not.

Greta Thunberg, Swedish teen-ager who inspired a global climate strike

The Effect of COVID-19 on Higher Education



  “Comparison is the thief of joy.”

                             The New Yorker






Students from all over the world want to send a thank you message to university officials for all they are doing for students during this difficult time. # Thank University.  More to come on this effort.

According to an unpublished study by Parthenon’s Global Education Practices, demand for Study Abroad programs will surge after the pandemic subsides. For now, 79% of American colleges and universities expect to experience a decline in their study abroad programs.



According to The Chronicle of Higher Education, as of July 27th, only 12% of U.S. colleges will teach fully online for the fall semester. But that percentage is changing daily.

According to an ICEF Monitor survey, 92% of the 520 schools responding to the survey are planning to use a hybrid learning model for the fall semester.


87% of all U.S. schools are offering accepted international students the option to defer enrollment until the Spring semester. 20% of Harvard’s first-year students, 340 students, have chosen to defer their admission for a year.

As of July 30th, 57,855 international students have been accepted at 286 U.S. colleges and universities and 4,488 have deferred to the spring semester. 

In a Reimagined University first-year students who elected to defer enrollment for a semester or a year year because of the virus would have been assigned a GAP year project that would have earned them credits toward their degree.

India’s Ministry of Education has introduced the National Education Policy 2020 which will allow the world’s top-rated universities to operate in India.

Author’s recommendation: For many reasons, the Chinese supply-chain of students has been broken and Chinese students will never enroll in international colleges and universities in the numbers previously recorded. International deans of admission should look elsewhere in the future to replace their number of Chinese students. India may be a good place to begin to search.

In a Reimagined University international recruitment will focus on in-country enrollment, articulation agreements and two-plus-two-degree completion arrangements and less on college fairs, agent referrals, and school visits. Cohort marketing, or enrolling groups of students from a single source, will replace outmoded recruitment practices.


According to information from the Center for Global Development, a Sino-American trade war could cost the U.S. $1 billion in lost tuition next year.

The growth rate for Chinese students in America has decreased from an average of 22% annually to just 5%. 

 Why I don’t believe Chinese students will leave China to study abroad in the future as they have in the past.

China’s Double-First Class program, initiated in 2015, has allocated more than 300 billion yuan to improve the teaching and research capability of Chinese colleges and universities. There are 42 participating Chinese institutions. The results are impressive. For example, Tsinghua University’s civil engineering, computer science and engineering departments topped Harvard University, MIT, and Stanford Universities in a recent US News and World Report’s Best Global Universities publication.

Better quality instruction in China decreases the incentive to study at “quality” institutions abroad.

On August 7th, The Telegraph reported 18% of job applicants are less likely to receive a callback if they have a U.S. degree.

The average cost of a college degree in China is $1,600. The average cost in the U.S. is $26,820. Although China reported today a 7.2% increase in export numbers from a year earlier. China’s GDP shrank 6.8% in the first quarter of 2020, the first decline since 1992. Many Chinese families simply cannot afford to send their children abroad to study.

Visa policies in many countries throughout the world are confusing and ambiguous, making it difficult for families to plan.

COVID-19 rates of infection are worse in many countries than they are in China.

Final Note: Underpinning all of the above reasons for fewer Chinese students studying abroad is the geopolitical conflict between China and many countries, including the U.S., Canada, and Australia.


The Impact of COVID-19 Virus on Higher Education

“It’s only when the tide goes out, that you learn who’s been swimming naked.”

Warren Buffett


Given the cornucopia of bad news over the past five months, it’s refreshing to acknowledge when something goes right. In last week’s bulletin I wrote about the proposed U.S. federal rules prohibiting international students to legally enroll in fall classes if the classes were only taught on-line. For seven days we all chased after this shiny object and planned for the worst. And then on July 15th, U.S. District Judge Allison Burroughs wrote:

“I have been informed by the parties that they have come to a resolution. The government has agreed to rescind the July 6, 2020 policy directive.”

The voices of 200 American colleges and universities in 17 states prevailed. 



It’s too early for anyone to define the reimagined student but it’s not too early to suggest a few attributes of the post COVID-19 college and university student.

The Reimagined Student:

Will enroll in schools with well-established health protocols

Will enroll in schools that have a proven track record of putting students first

Will enroll in schools closer to home

Will enroll in schools that offer year-long classes

Will enroll in schools that offer a reasonable schedule of in-person and online instruction

Will enroll in schools that can map out a reasonable schedule for degree completion at the time of acceptance and deposit

Will enroll in schools that assign academic and financial aid advisors at the time of acceptance and deposit

Will enroll in schools that provide accepted students with the approximate cost of degree completion 

Will enroll in schools with robust career counseling and internship programs and

Will enroll in schools that assign alumni mentors to accepted and deposited students. 


Rice University in Houston, Texas is building nine large outdoor classrooms. The university has purchased five open-sided circus tents and another four semi-permanent structures and will offer specific classes outdoors during the fall semester.

Fairfield University in Connecticut offered 1,150 accepted incoming students the opportunity to take an online summer class. As of July 6th, 887 incoming students enrolled in the class. Perhaps “summer melt” will not be a big issue for Fairfield?

Bentley University in Massachusetts is offering a free summer class as part of a flexible Trimester Program that will begin in the fall. Perhaps Bentley has already acknowledged that the previous academic calendar is no longer relevant?


The latest issue of Foreign Affairs magazine focuses on the reshaping of the global order with China taking the lead, including being the world’s leader in education

 Professor Youmin Xi, executive president of Xi’an Jiaotong-Liverpool University, speaking at the Going Global Conference said:

“In the face of crisis and new situations, individuals and organizations are presented with valuable opportunities to boldly innovate and plan for future transformation.”

Prior to COVID-19 more than 600,000 Chinese students studied worldwide. Many colleges and universities, including schools in the U.S., UK, Australia and Canada, depended on the revenue from these students to meet their enrollment and fiscal goals.

But this prior trend of Chinese students may change. Geopolitical disputes with the U.S., UK, Australia, and Canada, may impact the number of Chinese students studying in those countries in the future. 

U.S.-China relations, in particular, are in free fall and Richard Haas, president of the Council on Foreign Relations, predicts that the situation will worsen the in the months to come.

We are naïve to think that even after the virus is contained, Chinese students will enroll in the same numbers as before. This cohort of students simply has too many options. Of course top tier schools will continue to be of interest to Chinese students and parents but the virus has left Chinese families economically insecure and politically wary of being educated in western countries.

Chinese student mobility has, in my opinion, moved from the Atlantic to the Indian ocean.


“It’s 2022. What Does Life Look Like?” David Leonhardt, in his sagacious New York Times article, (July 12,2020), predicts the long-term, negative impact of the virus on several industries, including retail, publishing, restaurants, department stores, cruise ships, theme parks, and colleges and universities. Any industry, the author writes, that depends on close human contact is at risk, and that includes colleges and universities.

But let’s end on a positive note. Emily Oster, a Brown University economist, writes in this same article: “A downturn is an opportunity to revisit inefficiencies.” 

I think it is also a good time to reimagine and plan for what your school will “look like” in the future.

The Impact of COVID-19 on Higher Education

                         THE IMPACT OF COVID-19 ON HIGHER EDUCATION                 

“There is only one way out of this. It is, of course, by rethinking our education.”

C.P. Snow, former professor, Cambridge University and author of The Two Cultures and the Scientific Revolution



In the reimagined university the registrar is re-named graduation counselor and the career counselor is renamed lifelong learning counselor.

These two administrators, rarely having a seat at the strategic planning table, should have a seat at the vision planning table.

The graduation counselor has the ability, to outline for accepted applicants and their families, the courses that should be taken in sequence that could “guarantee,” if followed, progression and graduation in two, three or four years. Applicants would have this information before making an enrollment decision.

Potential outcome: Increased yield rates, less student debt and better progression and graduation rates.

Lifelong learning counselors have the ability to inform accepted and deposited applicants about internship opportunities at the beginning of their academic career, not as they approach the final year of enrollment as is often the case.

Students and their families would have this information before enrollment.

Potential outcome: Increased yield rates, better graduation and retention rates and earlier collaboration between potential employers and alumni.

Both of these suggestions build upon the previous recommendations for a reimagined university, including offering classes yearlong, both in person and online.

Another quote from C.P. Snow is relevant to the times:

“The imperative for adaptability, rigor, and quick but astute decision making is obvious. Because academic wristwatches mark time in increments of quarters or semesters, clock speed may need to be calibrated. Faculty committees tend to deliberate while shifts in policy, culture, and technology flash by at warp speed.”

Adaptation is part of life.

Or as the management consultant, Peter Drucker wrote, “The best way to predict the future is to invent it.”



“The mean-spirited policy is ignorant and ominous.” So wrote Brian Rosenberg, president emeritus of Macalester College, referring to the July 6th ruling by the Trump administration requiring all international students, those in the United States and those international students planning to enroll in the fall semester, to take courses only in person and not online. 

Colleges and universities were given nine days to respond with their teaching plans for the fall semester to meet the requirement.

This amounts to a new travel ban for F-1 students and could affect one million international students and cost the U.S. $41 billion in revenue.

A list of 40 colleges and universities in the United States with largest number of international students, included the following:*

NYU – 17,552 international students  –  30.8% of budget

Columbia University  –  14,615 international students  –  44.6% of budget

 USC  –  16,075 international students  –  32.3% of budget

Stanford University  –  5,650 international students  –  27% of budget

Harvard University  –  6,117 international students  –  15% of budget

Boston University  –  9,742 international students  –  23.5% of budget

Carnegie-Melon University  –  8,604 international students  –  56.4% of budget

Northeastern University  –  14,905 international students  –  53.6% of budget

Cornell University  –  6,775 international students  –  23.5% of budget

If you added up the number of international students attending California schools listed in this report the number is 68,174.

 Some of the most prestigious and generously endowed colleges and universities in the United States, with a substantial portion of their budgets met by international students, will be in trouble if these students are not allowed to enroll in the fall semester. Of course, everything is relative. But I was surprised at the high percentage of budgets met by international students at NYU, USC, Stanford, Northeastern, Columbia, BU, Cornell, and Carnegie Melon. 

*Source: The Chronicle of Higher Education

On July 9th, Harvard, MIT and Northeastern University sued the Department of Homeland Security over this policy.

“We will pursue this case vigorously so that our international students – and international students at institutions across the country- can continue their studies without the threat of deportation.”

                              Lawrence S. Bacow, President, Harvard University


More bad news for international students and scholars. According to the Alliance for International Exchange, the suspension of certain visa categories, including H-1B, H-2B and some L and J non-immigrant visa categories, could cost the United States’ economy more than $223 million dollars and more than 7,000 jobs.

My colleague and co-author, Gretchen Dobson, sent me an article detailing how geopolitical tensions between Australia and China have spilled over into Chinese students’ decisions about studying in Australia. Less than 50% of Chinese students plan to return to Australia to study.

Some families and colleges and universities are investigating purchasing tuition insurance to protect against future enrollment uncertainties. GradGuard, is a tuition insurance company with 300 private and public institutions enrolled in their tuition insurance program.

Some UK universities are considering chartering planes to bring international students from India and China to their campuses to begin classes in the fall semester. Jamie Arrowsmith, assistant director of policy at Universities UK International, said it was supporting institutions by exploring the logistics and costs of chartering flights.

The UK has announced the creation of an “Office for Talent,” as part of a plan to attract high-caliber research talent in order to make the UK a scientific superpower.

Enrollment managers at several small private and public regional colleges in the U.S. report they are very near to meeting their new student enrollment goals for the fall semester. Returning students’ enrollment, at the colleges polled, is also strong. 

How did this happen?

“We threw all the models out the window.” Todd Rinehart, vice president/chancellor for enrollment at the University of Denver.



I am gratified by the comments I have received over the past 15 weeks from many of you reading these bulletins. “Bulletin distribution” has increased from a small group of colleagues to vice chancellors, presidents, international deans and consultants in Asia, Africa, Europe, Australia and the United States.

I am grateful to all who read and respond to my axiomatic suggestions of the moment. And I often try to reimagine what the next 15 weeks will bring. 

Stay tuned.


The Impact of COVID-19 on Higher Education

 THE IMPACT OF COVID-19 ON HIGHER EDUCATION                                      



           “The world is changing. Understand what’s ahead.”                                                     The Atlantic                   



In the book, The Innovative University, authors Clayton M. Christensen and Henry J. Eyring defined disruptive innovation: The theory of disruptive innovation asserts that in industries from computers to cars to steel those entrants that start at the bottom of their markets, selling simple products to less demanding customers and then improving from that foothold, drive the prior leaders into a disruptive demise. In higher education, the authors write, the new form of disruption will require traditional universities to change fundamentally. Belt tightening and incremental enhancements will not be enough.

In this same book, Gordon Gee, then president of Ohio State University wrote: “The first instinct in responding to economic crisis is to hunker down and wait for the storm to pass. That is the instinct, but acting on it would be a grave mistake.”

Both the book and the quote were written in 2011. 

COVID-19 has disrupted every aspect of higher education, including how students are recruited and admitted, to where and how students are taught, to the measures needed to safely re-arrange classrooms.

For vice-chancellors and presidents’ immediate concerns center around the fall 2020 academic semester and the spring 2021 term. These concerns are shared worldwide and certainly need to be addressed. But for the reimagined chief executive, the concerns are longer term. Most realize that even with a vaccine, the residuals of this pandemic will impact higher education for an indefinite period of time. There is no going back and there can be no new normal. There can only be the normal that each chief executive creates in the future. 

Three questions for presidents and vice chancellors

What is your vision for your institution?  Thinking from the end, what would your school “look like” in the future? How will you create that future?

How has your governance style changed? In his book, On China, former U.S. secretary of state Henry Kissinger, explained the difference between American and Chinese foreign policy. American policy, he wrote, is like a game of chess, and controlling the center of the board. Chinese policy is one of strategic flexibility. Are you leading at the margins or planning with innovative leadership?

What are the opportunities, and there are many, to create both enrollment and financial stability in the future?  

The former president of Babson College, also wrote in 2011: “We must recognize that the ground is shifting in fundamental ways for higher education. We must reframe our approach to managing colleges and universities in the face of the new normal.”

True in 2011 and even more true in 2020.


In a recently published survey of college presidents in the United States, conducted by Inside Higher Education and Hanover research, 55% of the presidents polled are planning to reduce the number of academic programs offered at their schools. That same survey revealed the concerns of many chief executives about the effectiveness of online teaching and their ability to ensure a safe and comfortable physical environment for the fall semester.

Furloughs, temporary layoffs, permanent layoffs, unspecified layoffs, contract nonrenewal, permanent reduction in hours, all define the same thing: across the United States and probably worldwide, both academic and administrative staff will be reduced to help meet the financial difficulties created by declining enrollments, fewer international students enrolling in some countries, reduced federal and state funding, decreased federal research spending and declines in donations.

At least 50,000 higher education employees in the U.S. have already either been terminated or furloughed.

One of the greatest concerns for higher education employees is the real threat of de-funding of pension plans.

The latest QS research on prospective international student study plans revealed that global interest in study abroad remains high for prospective international students and these students are more are willing to study on-line for three to six months before in-person classes resume.

This same survey listed New Zealand as the country with the best handling of the virus crisis. The U.S. came in last in the survey.

Spain’s IE university organized with thirty-three countries from around the world, an agreement to support the preservation and fostering of cross-border knowledge through: leveraging technology, streamlining cross-border flows of talent and global collaboration of effective health-related protocols.

“Care Counts in Crisis” College Admissions Deans Respond to COVID-19.” Twenty admissions deans came together at the Harvard Graduate School of Education to raise their support of mental health care for higher education students. 

Smile Section

One entrepreneurial retailer, bowing to the inevitable, is selling a “STUDY-AT-HOME ZONE” for college students. The kit contains everything students need to turn rooms into the perfect college study space! 

It’s now eventide. Time for me to stop writing and for you, depending on your time zone, to stop reading.