CEO Notebook |
At first, one could wonder if it was simply the natural response to a year of constant re-invention, quick decision-making and (dare I say) pivoting, in accordance with constantly changing guidelines, the procurement and assembly of plexiglass barriers and other PPE, and the actions required to properly manage the fallout from an unexpected positive test among our faculty or student body. But it’s not. There is ubiquitous evidence to support that the plateauing of transmissions and increased vaccinations prioritizing PK-12 faculty and administrators this spring has generated widespread optimism among our ranks and the parents of our students.
Just last week, Inside Higher Ed reported, “Survey shows college presidents emerging from COVID-19 more confident their institutions can change and thrive,” and on NPR, “Nearly one-third of parents may stick with remote learning.” Perhaps most interesting as it is a little closer to home, a pulse survey conducted last week by NBOA’s distance learning partner, One Schoolhouse, found, “over 87% of responding schools are planning to offer online courses next year.”
My theory for the rebound is twofold. One, it seems natural to me that at the end of a crisis as impactful as the pandemic, we would react with optimism. Education culture almost reflexively sees the end of the school year as a time to look back on accomplishments and to seek to make the next year even better. Could there be a more appropriate time to do this? We have much to be proud of and certainly must believe next year will be an improvement on this one.
Second, after years of uncertainty over the programing and financial role online learning could play within our schools, it appears faculty, and our parent community as well, have developed a more common understanding that sees the exciting opportunity that has been there for us all along.
Let’s unpack these ideas further.
From the Inside Higher Ed survey, the 433 presidents from public, private nonprofit and for-profit schools are, “emboldened by the quick pivots their institutions made last year as COVID-19 descended [and believe their] institutions have the right tools, processes and mind-sets to respond quickly to need changes.” The survey also found, “82% strongly or somewhat agreed that they were confident their institution would be financially stable over five years, and 77% expressed confidence over a decade.”
Since we often turn to higher education as a bell weather, it is likely that many heads of independent schools feel similar. After all, small colleges have certainly faced the same financial headwinds as independent schools. They also have experienced unfortunate closures or forced mergers that were not necessarily caused, but definitely further exacerbated, by the financial pressures brought forth by the pandemic.
This optimism is juxtaposed against the role online learning may play for schools. According to the NPR/IPSOS poll, “29% of parents [indicated] they were likely to stick with remote learning indefinitely. That included about half of the parents who are currently enrolled in remote learning.” Albeit a minority, it is far larger than many schools may have expected.
From my perspective, this unlocks key opportunities for independent schools to address many of the systemic barriers that have limited our schools from a financial perspective, such as class size, deployment of faculty, access and affordability, expanded auxiliary programming and the like. That is a lot for business officers to be optimistic about, in my opinion.
If everything happens for a reason, perhaps all of this was intended to hold a mirror up to ourselves to re-think and see what our schools could look like with reassurance that we have the creativity, resilience and will to make it so.
For me, that’s a future to be hopeful about.
Projections: Powering the Flywheel (Mar/Apr 2021)
A Weight Has Been Lifted: A Case Study (web-only Dec 2020)
Impossible Is Off the Table: Lessons Learned During COVID-19 (May/Jun 2020)
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