So for 2021, it created three lists of five. “Instead of a top 10 list,” Grajek told listeners in her address during the annual conference, “we used a scenario approach to consider three different ways that institutions might emerge from the pandemic.”
Whatever the next year holds, the EDUCAUSE issues panel said, colleges and universities would most likely find themselves facing three scenarios: restore, evolve or transform.
“Throughout the pandemic, we’ve all learned a different way to plan,” Grajek said. “We’ve learned the futility of making long-term plans to mitigate a disease that’s still poorly understood. We’ve also learned how useful scenarios can be when we’re faced with uncertainty. Scenarios can help us plan for alternative futures.”
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A Scenario-Based Approach to Finding the New Normal
Increasingly, many in higher education think that “normal” might not exist anymore. Even so, for many colleges and universities, simply returning certain functions and operations to their prior states might be the most realistic (or even the ideal) outcome.
“Some institutions might be doing their best just to go back and restore conditions to what they were before the pandemic,” Grajek said. “In some cases, that turns out to be sensible in relation to things like financial health.”
MORE ON EDTECH: Read these 4 tips to make cost optimization part of your IT pandemic plan.
Just because a school might fall under the “restore” scenario in one category, however, doesn’t mean it wouldn’t look to evolve or transform in other ways, says Kathe Pelletier, director of the teaching and learning program at EDUCAUSE.
Realistically, most schools will find themselves facing different scenarios, depending on the challenge or business function at hand. A university that might be aiming for baseline financially, for example, could still be hoping to evolve or transform its approach to other aspects of its business, such as digital transformation. In such cases, Pelletier explains, colleges and universities will want to approach planning and strategies with various scenarios and potential outcomes in mind.
“It’s not just a monolithic situation in which a campus might only fall under the restore scenario, or only in the evolve or transform scenarios,” Pelletier explains. “Institutions likely find themselves at various points in these issues. Their cost management strategy might be in the restore scenario, but their institutional culture is in transform.”
Business Continuity, Student Success and Tough Choices for Higher Ed IT
Whether they aim to restore, evolve or transform, universities also face more immediate pandemic-related challenges that could significantly affect business continuity. What happens if there is a COVID-19 surge on campus? What if there’s a ransomware attack? Which classes cannot be completed online?
“We are certainly looking at this day to day on some level, but more likely week to week, month to month,” says Brian Coats, associate vice president of technology operations and planning at the University of Maryland, Baltimore.
Business continuity, Coats explains, is critical to universities and to students, most of whom have limited time to
complete certain courses and projects so they can graduate on time. “If we can’t educate students in the time they need, they’re going to go somewhere else,” he says. “They’re not just going to give up studying law. They’re going to find somewhere else to complete their degrees.”