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Apr 11, 2022

After the pandemic: soft or hard landing

Many large CSU campuses have not yet dealt with the anxiety of dropping enrollments so prevalent in most of the country. Because of our young, ambitious, mostly immigrant population and relatively generous public support, we never really had to think hard what students really want. They came anyway. This is all about to change soon, and we will be subjected to the unrelenting forces of market-driven competition for enrollments. I am just a little worried about how well we as a system are prepared for it.

Here is one example. A new diversity among students has emerged and is patently obvious to anyone who wants to notice. Some students prefer f2f classes while others prefer more hybrid and online classes. We can debate endlessly about why this new split had emerged, and which group is wiser than the other. The difference in preferences does exist, and we can chose to ignore it or address it. “Hard landing” would be to ignore these new preferences, then face a drop in enrollments, and then fight to get back those students who may have come to us if we were more accommodating. A “soft landing”  would be to hedge our bets, and try to accommodate both groups of students.

Neither of these two options is easy. Going fully back to the pre-pandemic f2f world just does not seem like a good idea. And yet we do not know what to go to. So far, we have been operating on arbitrary target numbers, like 80-20, or 75-25, where the first number is for f2f or hybrid sections, and the second is about online sections. We do not know, however, what the real preference is. We do not know how many students want fully online programs, and how many – just some classes online and others f2f.

If we try to accommodate, the same questions must be answered. Do we redo whole programs, or just throw in a few online sections, so students can choose? Logistically, it is very difficult to guarantee students either a f2f or online track within an existing program, mostly because of our gened and free electives, and partially because of accreditation definitions. Adding additional layer of complexity will stretch our ability to manage to the point of breaking. And what if we misjudge the situation, and offer something students do not want, or few of them do? That would be a waste of resources. From a PR point of view “Sac State will meet your preference for online, f2f or hybrid course modalities” would be a great promise. The question is – can we keep it?

I have too many questions and too few answers. This is probably one of those cases where a committee could work through these issues. I just don’t think we can afford to ignore it.

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