The Future of Higher Education: Pandemic Protocols for Resuming Learning

August 23, 2021

In this article, Charlie Meyer, Senior VP of Sales, Qless explores the future of higher education by exploring the impact of the pandemic and solutions for colleges. 

The Future of Higher Education

For a brief few months, the world was preparing for a return to normal. Cities were reopening, travel was resuming, and everyone could see a light at the end of the tunnel that was the year-long pandemic. For colleges, they were happily planning for the Fall 2021 semester with hybrid and in-person classes, along with on-campus housing and student services returning to normal. Unfortunately, as the last few weeks have revealed, a return to normal may not be in the cards for next month.

As the Delta variant surges, the U.S. is grappling with stagnant vaccination rates and soaring case numbers. Colleges and universities are now back to where they were 18 months ago: looking for solutions to protect their students and staff, while creating better experiences to attract students. While some schools are looking for proof of vaccinations for on-campus activities, the majority will need to enact new protocols and expand on existing precautions to create a better, safer semester.

Impact of the Pandemic

The 2020/2021 academic year was dramatically upended by the pandemic, as colleges and universities were forced to reimagine the learning experience. Most turned to remote or hybrid learning environments, which allowed students to safety distance from each other in the classroom setting. Unfortunately, this was not without its hiccups. For example, it caused lower enrollment rates as students opted out of the college experience.

Although final enrollment numbers are not released for the upcoming semester, international student enrollment is looking brighter. Student-visa issuance is returning to pre-pandemic levels, with almost 117,000 F-1 student visas approved in May and June. Also, 43 percent of colleges have reported an increase in their international student applications for the 2021/22 academic year. For domestic students, 63 percent of parents have said that their child’s post-high school plans are now the same as they were pre-pandemic. For students who have changed their plans, many are looking at less expensive options for schooling. Financial aid demands are also increasing, with 40 percent of students looking for more financial aid than they needed before the pandemic. Although the enrollment numbers are looking up for colleges and universities, it may not be enough to offset the challenges that are coming for them in the upcoming year.

Another ongoing impact caused by the pandemic is the way students will be required to learn. The 2020/2021 academic year saw schools turn away from in-person learning, aided significantly by technology. This year, 86 percent of institutions are planning some type of in-person study in fall 2021, including hybrid learning environments. Many institutions are still designing their plan on how to transition from remote to in-person instruction and activities, especially difficult considering the constantly changing public health guidelines.

Vaccines were not a consideration for the past school year, but now that they are widely available, many colleges are trying to contend with keeping students safe while not forcing individuals to get vaccinated. At this time, over 700 colleges across the U.S. have vaccine requirements for staff and students, many of which are private institutions. Colleges are also conducting their own vaccine clinics, with 64 percent of colleges planning to provide vaccines to on-campus students, faculty, and staff. Masking and physical distancing will still remain priorities for campuses.

The Future of Higher Education – Solutions for Colleges

There are two central aspects of the student experience that will need to be managed for the upcoming semester: on-campus activities, plus student services and support. Although there is no single solution that will work on every campus, edtech solutions can help. For on-campus activities, including learning, this will require universities and colleges to return to hybrid and remote classes. Over the past year, there has been huge progress to make the transition to online learning easier for faculty and students; higher education should continue to invest in solutions to create better experiences and therefore embrace the future of higher education. 

For student services and support, edtech can facilitate safe, physically distant waiting experiences. With queue management software, in-person lines — like the ones at bookstores, registrar’s offices, and financial aid — are replaced by virtual lines that use mobile devices to keep people up to date. This allows students to wait from wherever they feel comfortable, instead of in crowded waiting rooms. Since queues and updates can be accessed from personal devices, it also reduces touchpoints. Appointment management software can be used in conjunction with this to improve the student experience while also maximizing the safety of everyone on campus.

In the event of campus outbreaks, contact tracing methods must be implemented. Although this can be done manually — by taking attendance and gathering the information in-class — queueing technology can also help with this. When students access services through an app, they are required to input their personal information to receive updates on their wait time and place in line. This personal information can be used to track when they arrived and left the offices, which detects who was around in the event of an outbreak. With personal details stored on the system, it can easily be used to inform everyone of potential exposure to the virus.

Pandemic Planning — Again

No one expected that COVID-19 precautions would be needed for the fall 2021 semester. The good news is that there were plenty of solutions discovered over the past year and a half that can again be implemented to manage COVID-19 on campus. With public safety precautions — such as physical distancing and masks — used in conjunction with innovative software and technology solutions, campuses can be better equipped to create safe but improved experiences. And with each additional approach that is implemented, it’s one extra layer to help keep COVID off your campus, or keep it contained should it get past your defenses.

Charlie Meyer is the Senior VP of Sales and leads the North American sales team at Qless. With more than 20 years of sales and leadership guidance in enterprise and SaaS software, Charlie brings a wealth of experience to the growing company and market.

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