Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation Postsecondary Success

July 21, 2020

Postsecondary Success Notes | Reopen to what?


As fall approaches, conversation in the higher ed community is turning to reopening – the plans, the preparations, the precautions – all with a wary eye toward an uncertain future. There are still as many questions as there are answers.

My colleague Allan Golston recently posed one of those questions in remarks to a forum hosted by The Atlantic: “Reopen to what?” How can our immediate response to this crisis position colleges and universities to live up to their aspiration to be the “great equalizer” and close opportunity gaps by race and income?

While it’s impossible to know the future, we all want to be ready for it. That’s why one of our priorities for our COVID-19 response is institutional viability – equipping campuses, systems, and states with the best available data to inform critical decisions about sustainability and assist severely impacted institutions and students. Our investments include:

  • Developing and deploying analytical tools to create enrollment and financial scenarios that can help leaders gauge potential impact on student access and success – and to make decisions designed to protect both, especially for students of color, students from low-income backgrounds, and first-generation students.
  • Sharing knowledge and services developed by universities with extensive experience in online/hybrid learning and serving students displaced by institutional disruption.

There will be disruption this fall, but disruption can lead to transformation. Nearly nine in 10 college presidents said in a recent survey that they see this time as an opportunity to reset or even transform. We and our partners are committed to taking what we have learned about transformation so far and sharing it as widely as we can.

Reopen to what? My hope is that we answer that question with new ways of thinking about and delivering the education today’s students deserve, and provide the opportunity that will serve as a fitting tribute to the work and legacy of leaders such as C.T. Vivian and John Lewis, both of whom we remember this week – and always.

Patrick Methvin