I have a number of connections to the higher education industry: I’m on an EDA team at Cloud for Good; my mom is an admissions counselor at a small liberal arts school; my partner is a psychology professor at a private research university in the northeast; I am an alumna of a few schools between my undergrad and my grad experiences. Needless to say, I have been thinking and talking a lot lately about how this sector is going to change as a result of COVID-19. I enjoyed reading Tal’s optimistic take on the subject, which focused on the push for education to reevaluate and adjust its delivery methods to accommodate learning that isn’t in-person. But, if I’m honest, I’ve perhaps been somewhat less positive in my point of view on the matter.
If the whirlwind of events taking place in 2020 has taught us anything, let it be that the importance of raising and empowering the next generation of educators and students cannot be understated. The higher education space is not without its faults, and we should all be keen to our shared responsibility in shaping how higher education evolves with the times. Both my personal and professional lives are steeped in the higher education tradition. While I remain a progressive proponent of the value higher education can provide, I know that there are areas we can improve. Let’s start by taking a broader look at how the higher education space operates.
The Uncertain Road Ahead
I’ve been questioning the value of a business model that asks people for donations and then buys big, fancy buildings and prioritizes “experiences” over education. I’ve been internally trying to integrate my two inconsistent feelings during this time, simultaneously having a personal stake in the continued success of the industry and wondering whether and why it still matters to donate to and support higher education institutions.
Here’s what I’ve come up with: As most all Salesforce consultants know, it takes a considerable amount of work, time, and financial resources to implement a new technical system that is both successful and strategic. For example, my partner has been very busy over the past few months working to recreate and adjust his class material to an online environment with the systems he has access to at his institution. He has had to become incredibly adaptable and nimble in order to enable his students (who have now dispersed back to their homes across the globe) to attend live and recorded lectures, participate in “class discussions,” and complete exams in a way that is still educationally valuable.
While the circumstances behind this shift, stemming from the COVID-19 pandemic, were unforeseen, I believe it is imperative that universities handle donations with the same adaptability and nimbleness demanded of their educators. The higher education space as a whole would benefit greatly from a concerted effort to lift strain from their instructors and students and focus funding on technology and accessibility improvements.
Customizing Your Impact
My role at Cloud for Good as a Principal Consultant has allowed me to see first-hand just how important the right technologies can be for the success of a higher education institution. Institutions can grow and instructors can be empowered in ways unthinkable without the right technology. Every aspect of our society is evolving at a rapid pace, and the higher education space must account for that evolution if it is to thrive and prosper following the historic difficulties 2020 has presented institutions worldwide.
If I want the higher education industry to survive and grow beyond COVID-19 (and I do), then I should support the institutions that I care about so that they can implement these new delivery methods. But, in the future, if and when I donate to higher education, I will make a restricted donation. Although I spend a great deal of time talking about tracking restricted versus unrestricted gifts with clients, actually putting in the extra minute of effort to restrict my own gifts is something I’ve never done. That has to change given the changing landscape of a post-pandemic world.
I know that I want my dollars to support things that I care about, such as scholarships for underrepresented students and high-impact technology improvements, so I must now take the steps to ensure my donated dollars fund the programs and improvements most important to me. Moving forward, I will be sure to take advantage of this option and specify the purpose of my gift so that I know it will be valuable and make the greatest impact possible.