DETROIT FREE-PRESS: Small colleges face economic doom because of coronavirus

As the Detroit Free Press reports,

On Wednesday, Moody’s Investment Service downgraded the entire higher education sector from stable to negative.

“Just over 30% of public universities and nearly 30% of private universities were already running operating deficits,” the service wrote in its guidance. Slightly over 5% of private colleges across the nation have 90 days or more of cash on hand to absorb any short-term losses, Moody’s said.

“While public universities will face similar stresses to privates, those that are significantly struggling benefit from potential state support,” Moody’s wrote. “Private universities do not have this layer of additional oversight, support or potential (cash) infusion.”

(ICYMI) Post-coronavirus normal?

What will our communities look like once coronavirus is finally beaten?

Ignore the super rich in this conversation; they will be the least disrupted by the economic free fall associated with coronavirus, and they don’t care about the rest of us. It’s the mythical 99% I’m thinking about: How big will the pieces be that need picked up by those of us with some (or no) savings, a job we (might) still have, and a retirement plan that (might have) zeroed out?

And just how bad is that free fall going to be? Take the UK, for example, where a GDP drop of 15% in just ONE quarter is possible. The U.S? An ever-so-slightly better prediction of a 14% drop. Yes, it will be awhile before the global economy stabilizes, and that means it will be awhile before all of us stabilize.

But trying to figure out what our local community (not to mention the global community) might look like post-coronavirus is far more than a question of economics. What will our social fabric resemble? The atomized society already is evident; the example I still use to demonstrate that is Robert Putnam’s masterful book, Bowling Alone. Will we want to remain alone after weeks (months?) of being that way?

We entered self-isolation already fed up with people who didn’t agree with our politics, or who practiced a faith we didn’t like or trust, or who were different. If we didn’t have to see “those people” for an extended period of time, then why suddenly engage with them? We could choose to rather easily cull our (real) friends and associates list down.

I can hear the PBS’ slogan “People Like You” being morphed into a dangerous percentage of us caring about “people like me.” Tribalism is not good.

What will our education system look like? America — whether it was ready is not the issue (though we know it wasn’t ready) — has entered a real-time “alternative instructional delivery method” (don’t you love jargon?) at every level of our educational system. If we accept that one of the reasons elementary and secondary education is valuable is because of the social interactions they build inside children and teenagers, then we might see minimal disruption at those levels.

But what about higher education? College students and their parents would save a whole lot of money if they can demand more online-only classes and programs. Yes, the residence halls and Greek system have become almost a right of passage in America; but they developed because there was no other way students could be educated except in a classroom. There will be plenty of families who see the tuition and room/board bill and decide that Johnny or Katie living at home is all they can afford, and they’ll want good ol’ State U to accommodate them.

Some universities — whether because they’ve already built a significant online presence or because they have the capacity to make the pivot and sustain it — will succeed, if financial pressures or simple preference dictate that more students want an online education. Sure, the savings that would come from closing some of the physical footprint of the campus would help all universities, but, again, this is more than a question of money. Anything that is not provided sustenance dies; flipping the switch to online won’t work unless the university’s administrators and faculty are working together to make it happen. The tenuous relationship between those entities does not offer hope.

And, finally, what will be available to entertain us? Right now, we have no idea how many symphony orchestras, movie theaters, quirky independent bookstores, museums, restaurants and bars — all staples in our communities — will be around post-coronavirus. Hey, no problem, we’ll still have the sports team(s)! Sorry, folks, but that’s not entertainment; so even though such organizations might be too big to fail, they will not attract new fans just because the symphony is gone.

We often hear the phrase “the new normal” thrown around when experts attempt to explain societal change. That phrase might mean something, or it might be nothing more than a cliche. For now, let’s use it. Do you think anyone really knows what “the new normal” is going to look like after coronavirus is finally beaten?

Contracting coronavirus should scare us. A forever changed community should, too.

(ICYMI) THE JED FOUNDATION: Tips for Distance Learning

The JED Foundation has offered some solid tips for faculty to consider as they move to a distance-learning environment. The following information was distributed on Friday; I re-print it in its entirety here.

As the situation with COVID-19 continues to evolve, many college communities are faced with feelings of uncertainty and anxiety. Academic schedules have been disrupted and students, faculty, and staff have had to adapt to different forms of distance learning and working. We applaud your efforts to provide essential support to your students and campus communities during this difficult time. The Jed Foundation is here to offer expertise and resources to help you support the emotional health of your students and campus communities.

Below are some recommendations for supporting your students during this period of online learning. We hope this information will be helpful as you continue to assist your school community while also taking care of yourselves.

Know your institution’s resources. 

Many counseling centers are setting up mechanisms to maintain continuity with the students they have been serving and to triage new student clients. Questions about the limitations of teletherapy have prompted recent shifts in federal guidelines. Some colleges also have food banks or may be setting them up for students in need. Know where to refer students who may be concerned about loans, employment, or graduation, or those who need career guidance, and provide contacts to your institution’s adapted mental health resources if needed (e.g., digital platforms, crisis lines). It’s okay to say, “I don’t know about that, but let me find a contact who can help you.”

Offer support and express hope. 

Emphasize that students are not alone; this is a new context for us all. Provide guidance for anything in your realm of expertise—study skills, time management, or handling anxiety related to new digital formats. If you recently had to shift from an in-person class to online, remind students you believe they can be successful in this new course format while also being mindful that not all students may have access to a computer or high-speed internet service. Convey flexibility about deadlines, assignments, and exams, and encourage students to communicate specific problems or needs that emerge around completing their work. Also be mindful of time zone differences for international students. Employ principles of “active listening.” If a student expresses some concern to you, try to listen carefully at 3 levels: the content of what they are saying, the emotions they are feeling, and their behaviors in response to those thoughts and feelings. It is important to know where to refer students or who to contact if students express things that are concerning or worrisome.

Create channels for communication.

Open a discussion group, specifically for students to talk about what’s going on and how they feel. As an instructor, you would want to monitor and respond to some of the posts students share on social pages. While you should let your presence be known on social platforms, allow students to form connections with each other. This will enable them to crowd source questions that you might not be able to answer yourself, but that others in the group could. If concerned for a student, ask, “Are you ok?” in a private message and know where to refer them for support or other resources.

Promote and practice self-care.

Encourage students to maintain social connections digitally with friends, family, classmates, and others. Remind them that good self-care, like sleep, regular exercise, and proper nutrition, is important to learning. Consider adding self-care tips to the daily lectures and slide show presentations. Remember to also prioritize self-care for yourself. Though you and other online instructors may be students’ only connection to the institution, you do not have to be everything to them. You can be a good bridge to other campus professionals who are also there to provide support for students. The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Committee (SAMHSA) offers some helpful tips.

We all want our students to be safe and successful. We want you to feel safe, successful, and supported as well.