Post-secondary education faces both a wide variety of imposing challenges and, potentially, exciting opportunities as the nation moves to a post-COVID economy, forever changed in its social, economic, and education landscape. Counterintuitive to every other serious recession, when enrollments have soared, post-secondary education overall has suffered a remarkable 10% decline in enrollments. We can derive many possible messages from the “market” (consumers of post-secondary education). In the future, almost certainly higher education will need to look at new “market-responsive” education and business models for the “Re-Skilling of America” necessary to meet the needs of millions of individuals re-entering the economy and the changing, longer-term post-secondary education goals of the next generation of both youth and adult students.
At the same time, most public post-secondary institutions have received exceedingly large-scale federal relief funding to support their institutions during the pandemic crisis. The funding has been further enhanced by surprisingly high levels of ongoing support from state governments since revenues were much higher than what they anticipated early in the budgeting process. The result is one of the largest infusions of new money to public and many private post-secondary educational institutions in history. However, a great deal of this money is one-time funding, available over the next 2–3 years.
The opportunity this one-time funding could provide for meeting often long-deferred needs in infrastructure, technology systems, and enhanced automation of the many processes within post-secondary education itself makes the case for a thorough and tightly focused reassessment of all of the spending in post-secondary education to ensure the greatest value is achieved with those one-time investments.
In light of the steady declines in enrollment and the clear angst over student debt and costs of education, Governors and legislatures in the public sector and the parents and students who pay directly for education are demanding that tuition and other costs be clearly worthwhile. Demonstrating that their money is well-invested with a proven, tough-minded approach to costs and a visible commitment to ongoing commitments of ensuring high efficiency and the best use of the taxpayer’s and students’/parents’ investment in tuition will be more important than ever.