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Rewriting the Rules in Higher Education This Fall


A few hours ago, the CSU system announced that the majority of their classes will be held predominately online in the fall.  As a system, CSU comprises 23 individual institutions and 500,000 students.  It is one of the largest systems in the United States and, as a bellwether, will surely drive additional institutions to contemplate similar actions for the fall.

This domino is the latest to fall as the rules relative to higher education – and our lives – are rewritten due to COVID-19.  Basic activities such as recruiting prospective students by touring the campus have been upended and we now face the very real prospect of classes being held online through the end of 2020.

Even if a given institution makes the decision to hold classes on-ground in the fall, Presidents and Chancellors must pose a fundamental question to their cabinets – how does our institution prepare for a growing possibility that face to face education may not occur in the fall, either at the outset or later on, given a potential re-emergence of COVID?

This represents a deep and fundamental challenge for administrators, many of whom have little familiarity with online education at scale.  It is clear that digital and online will be a critical contingency plan and potentially a financial savior.  Yet this involves rethinking the entire student journey from admissions through graduation along a digital lens.

The opportunity is immense.  Not only are enrollments of continuing students up for grabs, but there will be millions more students who seek out higher education come the fall.  While there are many ‘gloom and doom’ articles that have been written about higher education lately, there is one fundamental part of the equation that is often missed. 

As of last Thursday, there are 33.5 million people who have filed for unemployment in the last 8 weeks.  To put this in context, the entire population of Australia is 25 million.  Let that soak in - there are 8.5 million more individuals unemployed in the US than all the living souls in the entire continent of Australia. 

In the 2007-2008 recession, approximately 2 million individuals went back to higher education to advance their learning and better prepare them for the future.  Of the 33 million unemployed, millions will go back to higher education and fleet footed institutions will thrive as they capture a disproportionate share of this growth.  As opposed to gloom and doom, this can be higher education’s shining hour.

Raj Kaji is the CEO of Akademos, the leading full-service online course materials platform provider.  Previously, he held senior positions in a number of different online institutions including Walden University, where he had responsibility for the education of 6,000 students.