| Sarasota Herald-Tribune
We can now see numerous places in society and business sectors where COVID-19 has both altered history and accelerated it.
The election this year will have a different outcome due to the virus. Political history will be made: We have never had a presidential election in a time of pandemic.
The airline industry will make history this year as more people will be let go the first day in October than in any day in aviation history – PPP ends Sep. 30 and with $25 billion tax-payer dollars given to domestic airlines already, there will be no more of our money going to them. The expectation is 80,000 to 100,000 people losing their jobs.
The healthcare industry will be changed forever due to COVID-19, as will how we treat the wise elders of our society. An example is the Lt. Gov. of Texas who opined that if a lot of older people died for the sake of opening up his state’s economy it would be acceptable collateral damage.He was referring to all of us over the age of 65.
COVID-19 has truly accelerated the collapse and disruption of businesses based on physical delivery systems created in the 20th century. The movie theater business was already in decline and now will dramatically shrink even more in the next two years. Theaters were the distribution model for the movie industry in the 20th century and started to decline when new technologies entered the consumer market. There used to be big screens in theaters and small screens at home. Now the screens are much smaller in the multi-plex and our screens are much bigger at home.
No place-based delivery system business is more threatened than higher education. A delivery system first developed in the 17th century – a teacher standing in front of a room speaking to a room full of students – is fully threatened by COVID-19. I suggested in an earlier column that August and September would be filled with news about colleges and universities opening and closing for students on campus.
Faculty and staff at all higher ed institutions, many of whom are older and therefore at high health risk, are quite understandably concerned about walking into rooms with dozens of asymptomatic super spreaders aged 18-21. This age group has shown a stunning lack of preventative health protocols in recent weeks.
I wrote here that the job of college or university president is perhaps the most difficult job in America today. First, they have to insure health and safety for all in their communities, something very difficult to do given the highly contagious nature of COVID-19. Second, traditional colleges are completely oriented to in-person, face-to-face classes. If the college has large spikes in virus cases, they have to decide whether to switch to virtual classes. Third, the general perception of most constituencies around higher ed is that in-person is far superior to online learning. This presents a looming problem for colleges that are charging full tuition either way. The students don’t like this and, of course, the parents who pay the tuition will not want to pay full price for a perceived lower-quality education.
Let’s pause here and take a quick look at some higher ed related numbers from the latter third of the 20th century.
As we all entered this time of pandemic the cost of college was a huge issue. College tuition has risen more than anything else in the United States from 1969 to now (when adjusted for inflation):
- College tuition today in the U.S. costs 3.4 times what it did in 1969.
- Middle class household income has increased in the U.S. by 9% since 1969.
Looks like higher ed collectively in the U.S. now has to be accountable for the price increases they have made over the last 50 years. That is why we are going to see an explosion in attendance at affordable colleges, community colleges and in online-only degree programs.
The higher education marketplace, as with many other place-based, in-person industry sectors will be looking at a future they didn’t expect and with few tools to adapt quickly. Upgrading distance learning is a solution, but not one that can happen overnight.
In addition to outbreaks of the virus, there will be the proverbial financial bloodbaths on campus. How can this be prevented?
Well, there is one local college that has quickly created something that looks like a brilliant and future-facing answer. Over the summer, The State College of Florida has put something in place called “SCF’s Flex Start Classes.”
I reached out to Dr. Carol Probstfeld, president of SCF, to learn more. Here is what she said:
“We need to ensure that enrolling, retaining and educating our students is foremost on our minds, whether that be face-to-face or online. Our top priority is ensuring a safe learning environment and providing higher education in the format students prefer.”
“SCF’s Flex Start Classes are self-contained, accelerated sessions offering the same course material as a traditional 16-week class in a condensed format. Students can add these classes as a complement to their semester-long course load or register exclusively for Flex Start classes. SCF also offers students online courses in traditional or live format. At SCF, students are afforded:
- Classes to match their schedule.
- Payment options for their budget.
- Degrees and certificates to meet their goals.
SCF gives students the flexibility to take classes when they can, the way they want.”
It is not clear whether this will be the beginning of something that lasts beyond COVID-19 but it certainly is a very creative way to bring higher ed to the students on whatever terms they may want. Of course, SCF is a community college and therefore not dealing with residential students or the hide-bound traditions of four-year institutions.
There will be and there must be entirely new forms of delivery across the board for higher ed, instead of relying on getting through COVID-19 and going back to “normal.” The virus could last well through 2021, and by that time there could be hundreds of colleges that will have to close their doors.
As the beginning of the column stated, businesses must develop an online alternative to what they do in the physical world. Colleges have had more than 20 years to create online education that is as good as, if not superior to, in-person education. They have not done so. They haven’t had to.
They do now. After increasing prices for the last 50 years, there will be a reckoning ahead. Welcome to the future. Welcome to the 2020s (https://the2020sdecade.com/) where there will be more change than in any 30-year period in history.
Sarasota resident David Houle is a globally recognized futurist. He has given speeches on six continents, written seven books and is futurist in residence at the Ringling College of Art + Design. His website is davidhoule.com. Email him at [email protected]