As the COVID-19 pandemic deepens and additional restrictions are put on place around the world, the impact on education is becoming more and more visible. Universities around the world are struggling to keep up with the logistical, operational, and reputational challenges unraveling with remote education.
One of the biggest challenges faced by colleges today is the growing sense of frustration of students regarding campus closure. Hundreds of thousands of students paid billions of dollars in full-tuition expecting to live the “on-campus experience” that these universities are famous for. Additionally, expecting in-person interactions, seminars, exchange programs and most importantly networking events and job fairs. Many students are even requesting full tuition refunds. As well as, incoming students, are threatening to rescind their acceptance offers if the university campuses remain close.
It is critically important that universities carefully manage this feeling of frustration, and support students impacted by the crisis. Since the way, they handle the crisis will define their reputation for many years to come.
Below are a few actionable recommendations, we advise universities to consider with the goal of improving their student’s well-being in these difficult times.
1. Offer Partial Refunds on Tuition Fees
For periods during which the campuses were closed, universities should consider offering partial tuition refunds. This would alleviate the feeling of frustration current students are facing after being deprived of the full on-campus experience.
Universities should review their current cost structure and drastically reduce and eliminate any unnecessary operating costs with utmost diligence. Namely, cutting down costs and redirecting any budgets that were destined to in-person interactions/activities (conferences, supplies, transportation, utilities, and so on). Universities with endowment funds should also consider funneling a part of their funds into funding these partial refunds.
Not only students will appreciate this method, but the university will also earn a stellar reputation among prospective applicants. The university will be seen as an institution that invests in ensuring quality of outcomes and experience for its graduates.
2. Offer steep discounts on certifications/trainings
Universities that offer short degrees and certifications should also consider offering steep discounts and even complimentary seats for students that are currently enrolled in one of their programs.
During this confinement, many students have a lot of time that they are keen to invest in upskilling themselves to become more employable after the crisis. Many universities today are already offering certification courses through the MOOC platform. In this case, providing students access to these resources additionally to personalized coaching/learning plans will play a significant role in improving the student’s experience. For example, including a negotiation certification program as part of a Masters in International Relations, or bundling an advanced Spanish course with a Masters in Economic Development.
Doing this, universities will support their students by increasing their chances of employability post-crisis. Furthermore, it would increase the popularity of the university’s lifelong learning programs and disrupt their own model of education.
3. Provide significant emotional support
Aside from financial support, students – especially international ones – may be struggling emotionally. These difficult times require a complete change of mindset and behavior, and not everyone can easily adapt. Imagine yourselves in the shoes of a new coming student right now – you have scored your dream school. You’re excited to begin your journey in a new country, but instead, you have to stay home and adapt. This is the time to expand the university’s psychological students’ support and do everything in their power to make them feel cared for.
They should also tap into the student’s networks, (student reps, TAs, community leaders) to ensure everyone has their eyes and ears open. In order to quickly identify struggling students and bring them to the attention of the appropriate parties.
4. Call on their alumni network to help current students
Universities should also tap into their alumni network to provide support in these difficult times. Beyond financial support, alumni should invest their time and connections in mentoring current batches of students.
By structuring cross-generational coaching and mentorship programs, universities can scale their resources through an infinite pool of alums. Alumni will have a concrete way to give back to their alma-maters, by investing time in coaching them, helping them find internships/jobs, or listening to their concerns and reassuring them. In addition, ensure that these students are being nurtured and cared for.
5. Offer income-based deferred tuition plans
Many current and prospective students are currently concerned about the scarcity of financial resources. With the unavailability of on-campus jobs, as well as lenders refraining from giving out loans during these uncertain times, students are getting desperate about funding their education.
Universities need to step in and provide alternatives for their students. One of the most equitable and novel ways of doing this is to offer deferred tuition plans, either for the full tuition or for a portion of the tuition. These deferral options could either have minimal or preferably 0% interest rate and should target struggling students. They can also be extended to incoming students, and can
be used as a selling point in attracting the best and brightest talents to the university.
We also believe that universities should go even further and boldly tie this financing to the educational outcomes. Pinning Income Share Agreements is a novel financing mechanism where students only pay back once they start earning.
At Edbridg, we help universities and training institutions put together deferred tuition plans through Income Share Agreements. We design, operate, maintain deferred tuition plans, end to end, and help universities through each step of the way.
We are extending our support in these difficult times to all the educational institutions looking to explore this as a viable and equitable way of attracting talented students.
Feel free to contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org if you have any questions.