I first wrote in this space about Covid-19 almost precisely one year ago. Like many so-called experts, I have made some comments about Covid-19 and colleges that have been spot on, but predicted at least three things that I now regret, because they have not happened.
No community college boost. In some past downturns, unemployed workers tried to obtain additional training or skills to boost future job prospects, often pursuing programs at community colleges. I figured with Covid-19, unemployment would rise and this past phenomenon would reoccur. Moreover, the pandemic largely temporarily ended in-person instruction, so some students would want to stay closer to home rather than travel to faraway residential college campuses where they would be more susceptible to getting the coronavirus. Additionally, community colleges were cheaper.
I was wrong. Community college enrollments sagged while four-year enrollments stayed close to constant. The flight to quality in higher education is particularly hurting less prestigious schools, especially community colleges, but also relatively expensive but non-selective liberal arts colleges and second-tier state universities, particularly in the Northeast and Midwest where population stagnation is especially acute. If anything, the epidemic accentuated this trendmore than ever, the perceived quality of the credential is important, not merely the existence of one. Just attending college or even getting a degree is no longer a near guarantee of a ticket to a comfortable middle class life.
No big reversal in the administrative bloat problem. I correctly predicted that budgets of colleges would be severely pinched by falling enrollment, reduction in state government subsidies and dorm revenues, and Covid-19-related expenses. I correctly reasoned that since collegiate budgets are predominantly personnel costs, a lot of people were going to be dischargedindications are collegiate employment has fallen by an extraordinary 500,000 since the pandemic began.
I reasoned that when resources were really ultra tight, universities would revert to the basicsteaching and doing research, shedding a lot of administrative bloat. Schools that had 10 people in their diversity police in 2000 and 100 by 2019 (reflecting the quest for more diversity and inclusion), would reduce the number sharply, to say 25, while making much more modest cuts in teachers in most fields. Similar reductions would happen with public relations specialists, fundraisers, assistant provosts, etc.
The data are not in yet on this, but I think if anything the reverse has happened. The all-administrative university, to borrow from Johns Hopkins Ben Ginsberg, has used the pandemic to consolidate its control. Administrators are needed to deal with the crisis, so professors have been fired aggressively. Looking at newly released data at my university on current staff salaries (reflecting the pandemic), only one of the 25 most highly paid staff spent more than a nominal amount of time teaching and/or doing researchthere were more coaches and deans than teachers or researchers. That, I suspect, is typical.
No major rethinking of collegiate athletics. The pandemic brutalized collegiate sports financially. Ohio State is going from a multi-million-dollar surplus in the 2019-20 mostly pre-covid fiscal year, to perhaps a $60 million deficit this year. Wannabe athletic powerhouses, such as those in the Conference USA, which already were losing more than $20 million annually per school, would find the financial pressures unbearable and order big downsizing. For example, I thought football team sizes would be reduced to perhaps 60 from 85 or more. Expensive travel would be curtailed. Coaches pay would be reduced to a maximum of no more than the university president made. Overnights for teams in hotels before home games would be eliminated, etc. Some of that has happened, but not much.
Sadly, what I have seen most: the elimination of so-called minor sports, those not bringing in much revenuewrestling, swimming, fencing, perhaps even baseball. Colleges prioritize ESPN and other high-revenue media contracts, thinking big spending is necessary to get them, not accepting something learned during the Cold War with the Soviet Union: arms reduction agreements save money and potentially lives. The same principle applies in sports like football and basketball. Slightly less good college teams will still draw fans as long as all teams are disadvantaged equallythe games will still be exciting and fun.