The Deloitte COVID-19 Higher Ed Scenario Report

Should we adopt a three- to five-year time frame in thinking about The Low-Density University?

August 17, 2020

This morning I woke up to a gracious and collegial email from professor David Prensky from the College of New Jersey, letting me know that Deloitte has actually included higher education in its three- to five-year scenario planning.

Dave wrote,

Subject: Your Inside Higher Ed piece today

I very much enjoy reading your work in Inside Higher Ed. Indeed, I have used your pieces as a starting point for class discussions in my seminars on higher ed policy and management. So, I wanted to point out that Deloitte's higher ed practice did publish a scenario planning piece on higher ed, even though it didn't appear in the listing:


Thanks for the many thought-provoking articles.


Later this morning, I also received a nice note from Deloitte, letting me know about the report.

Mea culpa. Not sure how I missed this, as I did try to look for higher ed in the list of industries covered in the larger report, but it is entirely on me for not seeing this.

A few thoughts on all this …

First, this is a case where the internet worked as it should. Hopefully, this blog post will correct my mistake and, more importantly, draw attention to this Deloitte report. I appreciate the collegiality in which Prensky reached out, as I think he is modeling the sort of digital communication that we all need to follow.

The larger point that I was trying to make in my piece, "Three- to Five-Year COVID-19 Scenarios and Higher Ed," still holds. The time is now for those of us in higher ed to pick our heads up, and to look three to five years down the road.

COVID-19 scenarios are much on my mind. Today marks the publication of my co-written book with Georgetown's Eddie Maloney, The Low-Density University: 15 Scenarios for Higher Education.

Johns Hopkins University Press is even providing an open-access version of the book under a Creative Commons license.

One of the ways that Eddie and I reworked the content for The Low-Density University was to push out the time horizons from months, as we originally envisioned for the Inside Higher Ed pieces from which the book is drawn, to years. It may be that some of the scenarios that we envision for The Low-Density University would inform the sort three- to five-year scenario building that Deloitte does for higher education.

In Deloitte's most pessimistic scenario, Lone Wolves, higher education must deal with severe rolling pandemics and insufficient and uncoordinated government responses. In this scenario, some institutions begin to roll out "sanctuary campuses," where a small number of privileged students can reside within a COVID-19-protected bubble.

This sanctuary campuses scenario reminds me of how the NBA managed to salvage its season by creating a player- and coach-only bubble at the ESPN Wide World of Sports Complex at the Disney World Resort outside of Orlando, Fla.

Deloitte also envisions a much broader role for for-profit corporations in higher education, should its worst-case COVID-19 scenarios come to pass.

While I appreciate the Deloitte report and am very happy that we were indeed included in the industries they considered, it is also clear that this sort of three- to five-year COVID-19 scenario planning needs to come from within higher education.

The Deloitte report looks at the potential postsecondary scenarios primarily from the lens of businesses and not from the perspective of a diverse nonprofit ecosystem of colleges and universities.

At this point, every institution should be planning for a three- to five-year scenario of a continued necessity for campus de-densification. The worst-case pandemic scenarios may constitute a low probability of coming to fruition, but now is the time to begin to put the infrastructure in place should that future play out.

Gaming out three- to five-year scenarios for delivering high-value, high-impact educational experiences within the context of a low-density university may identify investments that can't wait.

Preparing for the worst will put every college and university in a stronger position to ensure resiliency, no matter what low-probability/high-impact event we will face next.


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