- Dr. Kathryn Regjo opened the program with a brief overview of the state of the institution of higher learning in America citing more than 60 school closures since 2016, declining enrollment over the past decade, and rising costs for students and their families. Dr. Rick Levin also pointed out the steady decline in public money flowing to higher education at least since the early 1990s.
- Levin pointed out that declining domestic enrollment has been buffered by increases from international students. He saw no significant relief from cost pressures. However, all panelists were in agreement that the data continues to show a significant boost to lifetime earnings of a college education versus without one.
- Dr. Eric Barron acknowledged that the changes brought on by the pandemic were abrupt. Penn State’s priorities were 1) keep students safe and 2) get them across the finish line.
- Levin stated that prior to the pandemic, the online learning environment was dominated by about 50 institutions. That field has widened considerably. However, it is important to note that some subjects better lend themselves to the online environment. Online or in-person, the lecture format is a loser. Online delivery must be more diverse and imaginative. The in-person university experience will not be going away.
- Barron noted that Penn State’s World Campus gave their institution an edge because they already had tremendous experience in asynchronous learning. He pointed out that when the pandemic required the cancellation of in-person classes, Penn State moved 63,000 students online over the course of a weekend.
- All panelists seemed to agree that one lesson from the pandemic was to meet students where they are and remain flexible as an institution. In-person learning will always have a place, but greater use of online delivery will continue. Expect to see universities serving students not just at the beginning of their adult lives, but throughout their lives. As Barron noted, “You get a degree, but you never graduate.”
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