The Impact of COVID-19 on Higher Education



Welcome back and greetings from Cape Cod, Massachusetts. I trust all of you reading this week’s bulletin are in good health. 


Going forward I will attempt to balance my weekly exhortations on student declines and higher education negatives with good news and share examples of higher education institutions around the world that are reimagining, not reworking, their schools.

Over the next few weeks I plan to share with you my research on elements of a reimagined university. I realize I have the luxury of thinking about a reimagined future for higher education while most college and university administrators continue to struggle with the confusion over how to teach classes in the fall and spring semesters. That confusion extends to students and their parents, to educational agents and consultants, to trustees and boards of governors.

 My research is based on two underlying facts: I believe COID-19 will continue to impact students, faculty and researchers until a therapy or vaccine is available. And I believe there will be no “new normal.” There will only be the normal.


Last fall Sacramento State University piloted a new program and pre-enrolled 325 incoming freshmen in block schedules based on a survey of their interest, learning styles and availability. The results were encouraging: only 5% of students opted out of their predetermined schedules and only 20% changed the time for a course. The pilot program was so successful that it will be used for the entire incoming class of 4,300 students in the 2020-21 academic year.

The implications for progression, retention and graduation are obvious.

Several small colleges in the United States are partnering with hospitals for COVID-19 testing and tracing.

Moody’s Investors Service recently predicted that higher education enrollment in the U.S. could increase between 2%-4% based on past history of enrollment trends during economic downturns and recessions. 

A group of lawmakers in the U.S. have proposed creating a Pandemic Response and Opportunity Through National Service Act. Based on the service-related initiative, AmeriCorps, the program would “retool for the pandemic.” Details have not yet been announced but the implications for incoming students to take a gap year, earn money and perhaps be awarded credit for their service during the pandemic are promising.

The consulting firm, Arts & Science Group, surveyed incoming students in the U.S. and reported that 17% had changed their minds about fall enrollment because of the pandemic. Of the surveyed group, 10% indicated they would take a gap year.



The University of Alaska system will eliminate 39 academic departments, including degree programs in sociology, creative writing, and environmental science.

Elmira College in New York will eliminate six academic programs.

Many colleges and universities worldwide are sharpening their pencils and examining how and where money is spent and how college and university budgets are constructed. Many staff have been furloughed. And more will lose their jobs in the future.

A word of caution: no college or university can cut their way to sustainability. The reimagined, not the reworked, school will survive in the future.

According to a report issued by U-Multirank, 75% of U.S. students were dissatisfied with their remote learning experience in the spring semester.

Cornell University sociologists Kim Weeden and Benjamin Cornwell‘s data report concluded that “the small worlds” network on college campuses create fertile conditions for an epidemic spread of COVID-19.”

Caution: Although most higher education institutions have indicated a return to classroom instruction for the fall semester, in the end the virus will ultimately decide how college courses are taught.

According to a report in The Australian, the Chinese Ministry of Education has warned thousands of Chinese students against studying in Australia. The warning is a by-product of the geopolitical tensions between the two countries.

The American Council on Education projects a 25% decline in the number of international students enrolled on U.S. colleges and universities in the fall. 

According to the World Bank, COVID-19 will shrink the global economy by 5.2% this year. The U.S. economy is projected to contract 6.5 % this year.


 Most college administrators are struggling with how to re-construct the fall and spring terms. Most college students want to return to their campuses. They don’t prefer learning in their small rooms yet the warnings from epidemiologists are clear: a return to campus could be dangerous and should probably come with a warning about the risks associated with classroom instruction.

These are the axiomatic particulars of the moment. But it will not always be so.


In an earlier bulletin I shared with you my discovery of the word, sitooterie, which is a small building where people can sit outside. I think I will now go to my favorite sitooterie on Cape Cod.




This entry was posted in Colleges, Foreign Students, International Education, International students, Universities by Marguerite Dennis. Bookmark the permalink.

About Marguerite Dennis

Marguerite Dennis has been recruiting internationally for over 25 years, first at Georgetown University in Washington, D.C. and then at Suffolk University in Boston, Massachusetts. During that time she was responsible for establishing a branch campus for Suffolk University in Dakar, Senegal and Madrid, Spain. Marguerite increased the international student population at Suffolk University by 193% from 1993 to 2011 and increased the number of study abroad programs by 135%, from 20 to 47. She monitored the recruitment programs for Suffolk University in 20 countries and hired a network of 10 international educational consultants. She signed agreements in Viet Nam, Hong Kong, Kuwait, Germany, Mexico, France and Argentina.

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