Data in Higher Education Series | Episode 16

Managing Change During Uncertainty

Published July 13, 2020

In this episode, we’re listening to real talk about change in higher education. What does it look like to drive and manage change in this jarring new reality? What data do we need to steer the ship? And how do we use that data to maintain financial stability and ensure student learning?

Download Podcast

Show notes:

This conversation is led by Dr. Kelli Rainey, who brought together some meaningful voices for us to learn from:

  • Dr. Roslyn Clark Artis, President of Benedict College and former President of Florida Memorial University

  • Dr. J. Michael Bonnette, Senior VP for Advancement at the University of Lynchburg

  • Dr. Phyllis Worthy Dawkins, past President of Bennett College and current member of the President’s Board of Advisors on Historically Black Colleges and Universities

  • Dr. Jillian Kinzie, Associate Director of NSSE Institute at Indiana University and serves as Senior Scholar at the National Institute for Learning Outcomes Assessment

Institutions are considering the pandemic’s implications on higher education, and that’s causing significant shifts in our operations, in our direct impact on our strategic goals, our processes and even the culture in which our institutions are stand. In a space that’s really been slow to adapt historically, higher education must take the opportunity to respond swiftly to the need and the pressure for rapid transformation during times of uncertainty. But how? And do many of our institutions have the ability and the stamina to deal with this magnitude of change?

What should institutions address and what should they do now to prepare for it?

No one knows what to expect but we must find our footing during this uncertain time.

The need to collect and process and derive meaning from data points is critically important. Now that we have a moment to stop and think and begin plan what fall looks like, we have an opportunity to look at what learning outcomes were achieved. Look at course and grade distributions, where did we do a good job and which courses need to be revamped to meet the learning outcomes in a virtual environment and looking at hybrid and/or fully online programs for the fall.

We need to do some self-assessment. Are our processes adaptable to our new reality? We need to look at our students and other constituents. Do students have access to technology, and can we make modifications to our courses and programs that are conducive to student achievement? Are our faculty agile and emotionally strong with their own displacement?

Strategies that must be displayed during a pandemic:

Build trust, show compassion and practice well-being for employees and students and offer hope for the future. Institutions must conduct needs and outcomes assessments on a regular basis. Institutions, as they approach the fall, will need to enhance their communication skills and operate in transparency.

This is about change management.

No matter what model of change management you use, most start with a need to build a case. What did we learn from this spring? We need to remind ourselves on what our campuses do traditionally well (using your data) and given our new circumstances how will we assure we will continue to do those well. COVID-19 has left no part of education untouched. We must think about the students who are coming into our programs and what these students need to do well given their background. Inviting students to tell us what they need and collecting that data so we can continue to make a case for what’s working.

Are there institutions that are more at-risk?

Small private independent colleges, HBCUs or tribal colleges, tuition driven institutions, low endowed institutions, institutions with low cash reserves, or institutions with financial accreditation issues and low-enrollment institutions. Institutions are going to have to redesign their financial business operations, look at cutting costs, freezing travel and hiring and salaries, many have already moved to furloughed faculty and staff. Campuses need to be doing scenario planning and contingency planning and deciding how to update technology to innovate the campus for the future.

Any efforts or key strategies to assist with current and the next fiscal budget?

Now is the time to find efficiencies within operations. None of us have a full understanding of how our jobs are going to change in the next couple of years or what our responsibilities will be.

What data is relevant for our leaders and what data is critical to make a case for these changes?

Rely on the assessment data that we’ve been collecting. Use that info to communicate the story on campus and with the public. People are going to need to know they are getting something out of this experience what specifically that is. It’s going to expose some inequities that are part of our educational experience both at the student-level and the institutional-level.

What we can learn from all the ways we have to assess our students’ learning?

There is a need for both student affairs and both academic affairs staff to know what courses gave students more difficulty to shore up the bolsters for some of the classes or majors so students can be successful.

As we look ahead to the future, use the assessments to drive efforts forward.

COVID-19 and the changed circumstances may free us from some strictures that assessment has done to some campuses. We need to imagine what new information we might need to do well by our students and faculty and staff on a campus. Focus on what we know is most vital to measure about the quality of the student experience.

This pandemic reinforces our need to collect real-time data. There is a need to document student stories during this circumstance.

What happens now with strategic planning?

Stick to the plan. The plans are driven by mission. Our missions have not changed but our methods must. We can’t afford short term solutions for long term strategies. Plans are meant to be living, breathing documents that adapt to changing circumstances.

If you are interested in learning more about change management and using data effectively, check out our blog series on, which includes a change management self-assessment and more resources to help you drive your institution forward.

This website uses cookies to enhance your experience on our site. To learn more about our cookie and privacy policy, please click here.