The world of higher education has already gone through multiple upheavals in just the past three months due to COVID-19.
From the abrupt end to campus life in March, to thousands of faculty scrambling to create a high quality curriculum for students at home this spring -- and for the upcoming fall semester -- the world of higher education may never be the same.
Universities and colleges are currently planning for a fall semester that will look like no other in history. Shaping all of those plans is the safety of students, faculty and campus workers. The desire to return to campus is strong for so many, but safety concerns must take precedence over those desires. Some schools have already stated they plan to restart campus life in the fall, while others are planning for a hybrid model where some in-person learning takes place along with remote learning.
Because of these fast-moving changes, higher education institutions must implement strategic communications tailored for all their different audiences and stakeholders. Here are three communications strategies higher ed institutions should be thinking about right now:
The pandemic has made it that much more imperative for higher education institutions to have a solid crisis plan in place in case issues arise on campus. Unfortunately, at this stage, the chances are good that an outbreak, and even death, among students, faculty and staff may occur. Colleges are actively trying to avoid such events but they should still be prepared for such a crisis. Here is a checklist of what schools must be thinking about now in terms of a crisis plan. Without a plan, there’s only so much PR can do.
There is considerable confusion about what will happen this fall on college campuses across the country. The most pressing and crucial question: Will it be safe for students to return to campus? If the answer is no, what is the solution? While some colleges have already stated they plan to bring all students back, that response has been met with sharp criticism from surrounding communities. Many campuses have already said they are planning for remote learning and some are hoping that a hybrid model will work for them: this is a mix of remote and socially-distanced in-person learning. As these plans take shape, colleges must keep students and parents and the broader campus communities in the loop early and often. As much as possible, schools must be transparent and open and explain the reasoning behind these crucial decisions.
Colleges and universities are always brimming with real, intellectual and thriving stories. And strong storytelling is at the heart of any effective communications program. Now more than ever, highlighting the bright spots amid the pandemic for students, alumni and faculty will help create connections and spur hope in the broader campus community.