State Policy Network
COVID-19’s effects on higher education policy

The coronavirus pandemic has shaken all sectors of American life, and higher education is no exception. Since early March, the Martin Center has tracked campus closures on an interactive map and has published several articles chronicling the virus’s impact on colleges and universities. 

One of the Martin Center’s first articles captured the chaos experienced by students and faculty during the massive mid-March shift to online learning. Managing editor Anthony Hennen examined how campus shutdowns compelled many policymakers to refund students for housing and dining services. Political economist Robert Wright theorized that online learning could spur much-needed pedagogical reforms and argued that coronavirus-induced financial constraints could, in the end, produce more efficient and student-centered education

Senior writer Shannon Watkins highlighted COVID-19’s effects on the University of North Carolina system. Most notably, the UNC Board of Governors nearly voted to change the minimum admission requirements (MAR) by permanently making standardized test scores optional. Instead, the board approved the MAR policy change as a three-year pilot program. Watkins writes, “A three-year pilot program is preferable to a permanent policy because it is more easily reversible if graduation rates are negatively affected. It is, however, still unclear how the pilot program is the most efficient way to address coronavirus-related challenges.”

The Center’s most recent article, penned by president Jenna A. Robinson, commends university researchers for their work on COVID-19. In her closing, Robinson reminds higher education leaders that “a university’s true value lies at its academic core. It is not a sports franchise, a real estate developer, or a social club. At its best, a university is a wellspring of ideas, an edifice of knowledge.”