The Impact of COVID-19 on Higher Education



The “blueprint for greatness” will almost certainly require adaptation.

Michael Crowe, president, Arizona State University, quoting Jonathan Cole, provost emeritus of Columbia University


COVID-19    Worldwide economic trends and the Impact on higher education

Three years ago, I wrote International Student Mobility and the New World Disorder. International student mobility, according to the book’s basic premise, will be impacted by the economic, geopolitical, technological and societal changes and disruptions occurring worldwide. Today, I would add a public health crisis creates an economic crisis that creates an educational crisis.

Consider the following:

The IMP predicts the world’s economy will shrink 49% this year.

U.S. second-quarter GDP plunged 32.9%.

Consumer spending in the U.S. decreased 10% from what it was a year ago. Clothing sales fell 79% in the U.S. in April. (However, purchases of sweatpants increased by 80%.)

The US Department of Commerce reported that US apparel imports from China dropped 30% in 2019 and 20% in the first half of this year. Viet Nam improved its market share of the US apparel market by 16% over the same period.

UK economy has contracted 20.4% – August 13, 2020 report.

South Korea officially entered a recession, its first in 17 years.

Malaysia’s economy contracted 17.1% in the second quarter of this year.

Australia has forecasted the biggest postwar fiscal deficit since WWII.

There are 15 million unemployed people in the European Union, an increase of 700,000 since April.

China and Russia are partnering to reduce their dependence on the dollar, a development that could lead to a “financial alliance” between the two countries. For the first quarter of 2020, the dollar’s share of trade between China and Russia fell below 50% for the first time on record. Source: Russia’s Central Bank

Higher education takeaway

Future worldwide higher education enrollment will be impacted by future economic realities.

In August the Hechinger Report revealed that more than 500 colleges and universities in the U.S. are showing signs of financial stress. Nearly 30% of four-year schools brought in less tuition revenue per student in 2017-18 than they did in 2009-10.

Several of Connecticut’s 12 community colleges are on the brink of unsustainability. In Pennsylvania, 5 of the 14 four-year campuses that make up the Pennsylvania State System of Higher Education were in dire financial straits before the pandemic. 

China Update

“My impression is that the day is not far distant when China will make the most rapid strides and become dangerous rivals to all powers interested in the trade of the East.”

Ulysses S. Grant, 18th president of the United States, in 1879, on visiting Shanghai

China’s One Belt, One Road initiative connects over 65 countries and nearly 63% of the world’s population. The economic results of the trade agreement have yet to be realized. And the implications of this strategic alliance for higher education have yet to materialize. But I maintain that President Grant’s prediction will eventually become reality.

 On August 10th the Nikkei Asian Review reported that China has passed the US as the world’s top research country. Last year China published 19.9% of all scientific papers and the US published 18.3% of all peer-reviewed papers in scientific journals.

In 2019, 400,000 Chinese students were enrolled in U.S. colleges and universities, contributing an estimated $15 billion to the US economy. However, in the same year, Chinese enrollment increased by 6,000 students, the lowest number in the past 10 years. 

The US has cancelled the Fulbright Program in China and Hong Kong, a program that was initiated in 1980, at the end of the Cultural Revolution.

This week the US State Department designated the DC-based Office for Confucius Institutes as a “foreign mission” of the PRC and will require the office to make regular reports to the State Department on personnel, activities and curriculum of all Confucius Institutes in the US.  An estimated 45 colleges and universities in the US have closed their Confucius Institutes over the past few years.

Higher Education Trends

College enrollment in the US is down to 18 million from a peak of 20 million in 2011.

Takeaway: Every industry that has excess capacity ends up consolidating.” Ricardo Azziz, co-author of a book on mergers.

In an ECMC Group survey, American 2,200 teenagers ages 14-18, revealed that more than 50% of those polled, are open to getting something other than a traditional four-year degree. And 70% want to chart their own educational path.

Takeaway: Reimagined colleges and universities will initiate flexible educational programs.

Although the numbers are not yet set in stone, many colleges and universities are reporting increased enrollment in masters’ degree programs. The same is true of many community colleges. For example, In Ohio, Zane University’s enrollment campaign – “Stay home. Stay safe. Stay on track” stresses the importance of enrolling in their university for two years and living at home during the pandemic and then transferring to a four-year school for degree completion.

Takeaway: Reimagined colleges and universities have signed articulation and two-plus two agreements with all local community colleges.   

India is poised and ready to become the largest student market due to a growing and aspirational middle class.

Takeaway: International deans and recruiters should consider the Indian market as a potential source of students to replace the declining numbers of Chinese students. 


Author’s Note:

I think the pandemic will change forever:

Airport screening

Mall shopping

Movie attendance

In-person visits to a doctor

Any activity that involves crowds of people

Funding of pension plans



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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