May 12, 2022

Two Different Education Realities Emerging Today

The education industry is beginning to witness the same divide as we see in other segments of culture. As the world moves toward a post-pandemic new reality, two different realities are emerging in the world of education. And, private education seems to be the most directly impacted.

On one hand, many private schools and colleges fared very well during the pandemic. They had some resources with which to pivot online and hybrid settings, fostering economic strength and demonstrating resiliency in the delivery. Now, saddled with strong enrollments, balanced budgets, and happy students, we are seeing many established and mature schools settle back into their old ways as they try to recreate the past. Post-pandemic retrenchment has hit the ranks of faculty, staff and even leadership at some of these stronger schools and colleges. Their new reality is one of managing newfound demand, which may outpace capacity, and move back into a more traditional style of education. Oddly enough, we are not seeing the same level of innovation among these schools at the moment. They are less concerned with the innovation with which they leaned into during the pandemic and more interested in stabilizing their current circumstances. Perhaps not a surprising trajectory, but a concerning one if it continues.

On the other hand, there are a cohort of private schools and colleges that are simply not healthy at the moment. They did not fare well during the pandemic, losing students and market position. They are at risk of retraction and market consolidation if they are not careful. They struggle with recruiting and retaining top talent – or any talent, at all – with a faculty and leadership team that are exhausted from the last 26 months. They are at an existential crisis during the next several years and are rethinking how they will survive during the next decade.

Of course, let’s not forget those schools and colleges that passed away during the past two years. We had several small independent schools and colleges that closed or were consolidated by other systems. I wrote an article back in February 2021 about the closing of MacMurray College in Central Illinois – a fine institution that had weathered many economic uncertainties in the past. But, the pandemic accelerated their preexisting conditions. At that time, I shared the same sentiment that I offer and underscore today:

I am deeply concerned that we currently have too many over-generalized, non-distinct, over-priced, inflexible, smallish private schools and colleges, with limited resources. They are all trying to find a way to preserve a past that is declining. There simply won’t be room for all of them.

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