Hopeful for 2021

To launch the new year, Lawlor Advisory fielded a survey inviting our higher education clients to share their hopes and aspirations for 2021. Many of the “I wish…” statements reflect a fervent desire for the COVID pandemic to end, so there can be a return to normal campus activities in the fall. Yet a sense that there’s no going back to “normal” was also inherent in many of the comments:

  • I wish that my institution has the courage to creatively and strategically approach our “new” future.
  • I wish higher ed would take seriously that students will forever have different expectations of us.
  • I wish for broader understanding of the impact COVID has had in student attainment and learning.
  • I wish for continuing reflection of how we get better as advocates.

We also asked: What is the most important adjustment you made in 2020 that you will carry forward as a permanent change even after the pandemic is over? Virtual programming for students made the list of many respondents because it can expand access. And even though, as one person put it, “I miss the creative energy and personal satisfaction of working alongside one another,” partial virtual work for employees may be here to stay. Respondents pointed out our pandemic working conditions have brought greater recognition that:

  • We can trust in employees to do right
  • We can be more tolerant of each person and their situation and circumstance
  • Attention to self-care is important
  • Staff can be adaptable and flexible with roles and responsibilities
  • Comfort with ambiguity helps us live more comfortably in the “in between”

The survey responses showed that while we all hope for our pandemic situation to end soon, the lessons we have learned during it are shaping a future that is not the past.

Lawlor Recommends

Continuous improvement is a common mantra and frequent soundbite that so much of higher education has articulated over the years. This past year has definitely been a catalyst for more college and university leaders to move from “talking the walk” and actually “walking the talk,” with their actions speaking louder than words.

Change is happening, now and forever. And, while there are many issues to navigate, institutionally and individually, all of us need to actively make incremental adjustments to help create an institutional culture of relevance and responsiveness. As Scott Jaschik, the editor of Inside Higher Ed, recently shared during a presentation: “The pandemic exacerbated the situation; it didn’t create it.” There may not be moments of instantaneous recovery, but the road less travelled will now become the path to future success. May your “I wishes…” become reality. Onward and upward!

Demographic Challenges

Nathan Grawe writes that “lessons from 2020 will prove vital if colleges are to survive the approaching demographic reversal of 2026.” (Source: Chronicle)

Student Poll

A survey of college students learning online indicates the pandemic has eroded some trust in college and university leadership. (Source: Inside Higher Ed)

Value from Career Services

Brandon Busteed argues that “work relevance and career services may soon become the most important selling point of a university.” (Source: Forbes)