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  • (pleasant mallet percussion music)

  • - [Alexander] The coronavirus has upended the world

  • of higher education.

  • In March, students were abruptly sent home,

  • classes were moved online.

  • Now, as campuses across the country sit empty,

  • administrators are scrambling

  • to prepare for what comes next.

  • - In many ways, the attack that COVID represents

  • to higher education is a really straightforward assault

  • on the bottom line.

  • - The financial challenges are severe.

  • I mean, I won't kid you, they're profoundly challenging.

  • - There will be more bankruptcies, more business failures,

  • more need to federal and state bailouts.

  • - [Alexander] The pandemic has thrown the budgets

  • of public and private colleges into turmoil.

  • Since the lockdowns went into effect,

  • they have seen their revenues drop and their expenses climb.

  • - And I think, yeah, more than belt-tightening,

  • this may be something like reconstructive surgery

  • if not actually thoracic surgery.

  • - [Alexander] With all education now virtual,

  • e-learning is having a moment.

  • When students were sent home mid-semester,

  • American higher ed began what was essentially

  • a nationwide experiment.

  • In the space of three weeks,

  • all learning was moved from the classroom to the internet.

  • This has accelerated the trend towards online education

  • and raised more fundamental questions

  • about the value of a college degree.

  • - College students suing Drexel University,

  • the University of Miami and others

  • saying online learning is no replacement

  • for a bricks and mortar on-campus experience.

  • - What will be the lasting legacy of COVID-19

  • for higher education?

  • Could this virus lead to a wave

  • of college and university closures?

  • Will the classroom we once knew gradually return

  • or could COVID permanently transform how we learn?

  • - Hello.

  • - Hey, Bryan.

  • To help answer these questions,

  • I spoke to Bryan Alexander, a higher education futurist.

  • As his title suggest, Alexander spends a lot of time

  • contemplating what might happen

  • in the higher education space.

  • In a passage included in his 2020 book,

  • Alexander suggested the possibility

  • of a global pandemic transforming the industry.

  • - I wrote the chapter in 2018, 2019,

  • and I'm afraid it is chillingly prescient.

  • - [Alexander] But how do you imagine a post-COVID future

  • when so little is known about COVID itself?

  • With so much uncertainty surrounding the pandemic,

  • Alexander believes it's impossible to divine

  • any one outcome.

  • Instead he sees three potential paths

  • for the future of higher education.

  • - One is that we could be

  • in the middle of a short plague,

  • that is, something which burns out relatively quickly,

  • that perhaps a month from now,

  • we are very, very far down the downhill side

  • and that, come August and September,

  • we'll be in good shape and colleges and universities

  • can open their physical doors

  • to welcome face-to-face students again.

  • A second possibility is that the pandemic

  • will extend through December into 2021.

  • In that case, then we have to think about higher education

  • being virtual throughout the entire fall semester.

  • - [Alexander] Recently,

  • the California State University system

  • announced that it would be canceling

  • most in-person classes in the fall

  • and will instead hold them online.

  • This is significant because the Cal State system

  • is the largest four-year university system in the country.

  • The system is also one of the most diverse in the country,

  • with 1/3 of undergraduates the first in their families

  • to attend college.

  • One of those is Ana Ruth Bertolazzi,

  • a senior at San Francisco State University.

  • - As a single parent, my son, he's a seventh-grader,

  • soon now close to be eighth-grader,

  • it was a challenge.

  • - [Alexander] Like many students,

  • one challenge Ana has faced are class disruptions

  • due to a slow internet connection.

  • - There are moments when, if I ask a question

  • to my Zoom class professor,

  • either my voice is not even projecting or it stops.

  • - [Alexander] Students like Ana would also be impacted

  • by Alexander's third forecast.

  • - A third possibility is that,

  • instead of having a simple pandemic, short or long,

  • that we'll have something more complicated

  • with multiple waves.

  • For academia, I dub this the toggle term.

  • This is when a campus will have to switch back and forth

  • between face-to-face instruction

  • and wholly online instruction.

  • - [Alexander] Each of these scenarios would be costly.

  • Even in the best forecast, where the pandemic is shorter

  • and campuses reopen in the fall, there's no guarantee

  • that all students and faculty will return.

  • That means smaller classes and less revenue for schools.

  • If the fall semester is online,

  • Alexander expects the financial hit to be even more severe

  • as more students demand tuition breaks.

  • - We have about 4,400 colleges and universities

  • in the U.S. all told, and I could see easily 10%

  • staring into the abyss this time next year.

  • What worries me are, first of all,

  • private colleges and universities

  • that, you know, therefore lack any state support,

  • but that are not the most highly ranked,

  • the lower ranked and the medium ranked ones.

  • - [Alexander] Dominican University is a small,

  • private liberal arts college

  • located in San Rafael, California.

  • - We know we're gonna have some financial hits.

  • We know we'll have to make some adjustments to get there,

  • but we know where we're headed,

  • and we're really reasonably well-positioned to manage this.

  • The place where Dominican is not as well-positioned,

  • and it's true of many, many small colleges,

  • is we don't have deep pockets.

  • You know, we have a really small endowment.

  • - [Alexander] But small private schools

  • aren't the only ones at risk.

  • Some state universities are in trouble as well.

  • - I'm also concerned about public university systems

  • that are facing similar problems.

  • For example, you think about Pennsylvania.

  • - [Alexander] One of the public systems at risk

  • is Pennsylvania's State System of Higher Education,

  • which is made up of 14

  • state-owned colleges and universities.

  • - The challenges of higher education,

  • public higher education generally,

  • they're pretty acutely concentrated here.

  • Obviously, a historic pattern of declining public investment

  • has forced universities to increase tuition

  • and actually net average price overall,

  • so those challenges sort of have combined

  • in our system to produce the 20% enrollment decrease

  • since 2010, between 2010 and 2019,

  • and obviously, as our enrollments go down,

  • we're in an enrollment-driven industry,

  • and as a consequence, our revenues have declined as well.

  • - [Alexander] If there is one consensus in higher ed,

  • it's that online education is here to stay

  • and that it will only grow in importance.

  • One company that is uniquely positioned

  • to understand this trend is Chegg.

  • Chegg provides online services

  • for about 60% of American college students.

  • - When I went to college many, many years ago,

  • my Intro to Business courses were 300-person lectures

  • in a giant auditorium.

  • Not only are those potentially dangerous right now,

  • but the reality is, those lend themselves very, very well

  • to online learning.

  • - [Alexander] Last semester, schools were forced online

  • out of necessity, but the reality is,

  • for many students, necessity may keep them there.

  • - We have to imagine that many, many families

  • are seeing their savings and investments put into chaos,

  • those who have those,

  • some of them are being hit economically

  • by unemployment or underemployment.

  • Some of them additionally are being hit by disease.

  • - Like a lot of things