Trenton Hightower
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Higher Education to Change in 2020

Survey Results Show COVID 19 Impact Will Change the Operations, Staffing, Programming, and Instruction Forever.

The challenges facing higher education and the Continuing Education division have disrupted the current practice of work and will change the way programming, instruction, and operations will be conducted in the future.  During my 21 years as a Manager, AVP/Dean, and Assistant Vice Chancellor in three states at community colleges – one constant has been that technology has always been forcing change in higher education. COVID 19 will change the operations, staffing, programming, and instruction forever. 

I led a session for over 100 continuing education leaders during April and May.  During these sessions, we surveyed the attendees about what has happened over the last 2 months and what they expect for the future. Their projections and feedback expressed a few of their specific changes and concerns. 

We surveyed 100 people with a 43% response rate.  One of the telling questions was about staffing in the future. The question asked the leaders if they will survive with the same staff and course offerings in the fall.  50% replied no, they do not feel they will be able to survive in the fall with the same staff and offerings.  During the workshops, people shared that they would need staff with more experience in distance learning, social media, and digital marketing. When it comes to adjunct faculty, they expect needing to provide more training in using online learning software and engagement strategies. Other significant factors will be the digital divide, broadband issues, and learners’ comprehension challenges. 


This next question showed that 46.3% of the leaders will expect to hire new staff with new skills in the future.   


When asked if they have staff to develop online courses today - 54% replied no.  During the sessions, it was shared that they have been working with third party vendors for their online courses - such as World Education LLC for professional courses and Ed2Go for personal enrichment courses. Today - more than ever - each leader will need to develop more skilled staff to be able to provide the training and education for employers in the future. 

While staffing will be difficult for the next year based on the history of colleges and government,  which are notorious for implementing hiring freezes and layoffs as the answer to funding and enrollment challenges, it will be smart to review programs and to eliminate those that cannot support themselves or the mission of a degree with significant competitors. The survey revealed a major difficulty in revenue generation. Over 60% estimate they are losing over 50% to 70% of the revenue for the last semester and the semester to come next fall.


With this lost revenue, it will be nearly impossible for the current staff to be able to recover in 2020 with the expected losses. The leaders were asked if more revenue will be gained by moving the courses online. The leaders do not believe that offering more online courses will make the difference in the short term. 


Some of the reasons for not being able to provide revenue with online courses are based on the fact that the division normally has a small presence in the social media market or has very small budgets for digital marketing.  While the leaders stated they have people that have worked on social media, they are not dedicated for that effort and they are not using any paid services - just organic free posts that have a mild effect on the community. 


While we shared the staffing issues in the beginning of this report, the final issue is with managing their current staff.  Over 85% shared they have not managed staff in a virtual environment. As I have led and worked in the virtual world myself for the last 8 years, it is a skill and talent to manage the different tools for courses, staff, instructors, meetings, and client meetings. 


The non-credit departments are going to face their biggest challenges over the next 6 months because the departments are understaffed, short-handed in online courses, and have staff with experiences and skills running mostly in-classroom courses.  Many CE leaders are in for a difficult time.


Recommendations for the next 6 months: 

Learn about and provide training on tracing, healthcare screening, and temperature taking.  You will need to implement all these factors to protect the students, faculty, college, and yourself.

Keep running the program review and decide who is going to be part of the team for the future. Consider skill sets and how they will be managed from the office and from home. 

Reconsider your adjunct faculty training for online and in-classroom.

Seek partnerships that will support you during this time that are positive, share a good revenue, and offer a communications plan.  Ask to see their completer percentage and ask other colleges that you know work with them to check the completer percentage. 

Each leader will need training in virtual leadership to help people work from their virtual offices and how to hold people accountable for outcomes - not just time at a desk.  Unfortunately, people can drift off to other things if not managed well. During the first online conference held by National Council for Continuing Education, I presented about the home office and virtual tools to manage staff. I can provide a copy of that presentation if you email me at

Organizations will need to consider their online marketing and digital marketing plans. They will also need to seek funding to advertise online programs. 

If you would like a copy of the full report with the survey data – please just email me at

You will need to provide new services to support your students as the online market is extremely competitive - so buckle up and get ready for the ride of your higher education life to survive until 2021!


Trenton Hightower, CEO


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