Must Read Blog April 2, 2020

How the Higher Education Supplier Community is Responding to COVID-19

We hope this note finds you and your family safe and healthy during this unprecedented time. We also hope that your communities – both personal and professional – have proved helpful in navigating the current transitions.

It is in that spirit of community that we are reaching out to you and our higher education networks. For now, we simply want to share what we are hearing and seeing, to the extent it might be helpful to you in your support of the broader higher education community. Given the volume of information crossing our collective screens, this month we have chosen to highlight selected actions taken by suppliers and select support organizations. The response of the higher education supplier community is growing and evolving daily so we have opened up our curated list for contributions by others.  If you have additional information to add from your organization, please submit it here. We encourage you to share this resource with others who may find it useful.

We will plan to stay in touch monthly for the near-term in a similar vein. If there is anything in particular that would be helpful to hear about, please let us know. 

Wishing health and security to everyone in our higher education community.

Gates Bryant, Partner 

Trace Urdan, Managing Director

Kristen Fox, Director

How are suppliers and support organizations responding to COVID-19?

Free offers or too much marketing? Some suppliers have moved quickly to make offerings free in an effort to assist institutions, faculty and students amidst the rapid shift to remote learning models. We have a curated a list of 80+ responses from suppliers across key functional categories, from enrollment to advancement, to teaching & learning and student success to library and auxiliary services.  We’re sure that there are scores more but based on this sample, most of the “free” offers provide temporary access to digital learning content and information services.  Institutions that we have spoken to across the last two weeks report being inundated with outreach.  Most are working closely with trusted partners and ignoring outreach from suppliers and organizations they don’t know.

Notably NOT free: enrollment management services and online assessment: As businesses across every dimension of the economy (apart perhaps from Zoom, Netflix and Door Dash) are struggling to stay afloat, we offer no judgement, but do note that the areas of the most critical and obvious institutional need – enrollment management and online assessment – are notably absent from the list of free offers. Most institutions we’ve heard from are struggling with the issue of academic integrity and assessment as they contemplate the prospect of a greater future reliance on the online modality. And the issue of how to fill future classes and manage yields for summer and fall enrollment with so much uncertainty is an area of immediate critical need.  Some mobile application, messaging and student engagement applications have offered free-trials.  Over the medium term, expect to see the cost of digital advertising and lead generation across a variety of channels decline as advertisers in many other segments of the economy pull back on spending.

Resources for remote learning … or … wait, is this what online is supposed to look like? Practitioners and thought-leaders alike have called out the myriad ways in which this rapid transition is something other than high-quality online learning.  While this distinction is important, it undermines the level of support being provided by centers for teaching & learning, instructional technology and design professionals across institutions.  A review of the responses by institutions and support organizations gathered here and dozens of individuals (for example, here) shows earnest effort to embed select best practices in the pivot to remote learning. The instructional design community is banding together to support remote and online modalities in heroic ways. We will have more to say on this topic in the coming months as we gather feedback from faculty and students about this transition and whether it will catalyze accelerated implementation of high-quality online learning.

Equity and Access (Digital Divide): While the FCC is waiving rules for the E-rate program to allow companies freedom to provide schools in K-12 with free services and equipment, and beating the drum of its “Keep Americans Connected” campaign to improve internet connectivity, targeted options for low-income students in higher education appear underwhelming. A quick scan of offers from major internet service providers reveals, for example, that Pell eligibility is not used as a screening criterion for most of the low-cost plans.  While a portion of the CARES Act devotes emergency aid to students, institutions that we’ve spoken to need a more coordinated response from internet service and hardware providers and a centralized resource to build awareness and enable student procurement. The best we have found so far is from the National Digital Inclusion Alliance but send us what you have and we will share with the broader community.

Curated and Open Emergency Response Indexes

Supplier Offers

Institutional Remote Teaching Resources

Technology Access