February 17, 2021
Subject: The Edge: What’s Different About This Recession and Why That Matters to Higher Ed
I’m Goldie Blumenstyk, a senior writer at The Chronicle covering innovation in and around academe. Here’s what I’m thinking about this week.
What’s different about this recession and why that matters to higher ed.
Maybe you’ve heard about the findings in this new survey: About half of adults in the United States who are currently unemployed, furloughed, or temporarily laid off and are looking for work “are pessimistic about their prospects for future employment,” according to the Pew Research Center. Most say they’ve seriously considered changing fields or occupations since being out of work.
If this recession were like past ones, that dire finding would at least have been encouraging for college enrollments. But with a few exceptions (like some big online universities I wrote about recently), that hasn’t been the case this time. Two reasons for that are the speed with which this economic blow struck and the magnitude of its fallout. “It didn’t give anyone time to prepare,” says Bridget Terry Long, dean of the Harvard Graduate School of Education. “It really was a shock to the system.”
Long is no casual academic observer. A professor of economics and education, she has studied the Great Recession of 2008 and its impact on higher ed. I spoke with her last week to get her take on this recession and reaction to the Pew survey — and I learned that she is thinking a lot about how colleges and policy makers could respond to reverse the enrollment declines that now threaten the sector.
The speed factor in this recession wasn’t really on my radar until Long mentioned it, but I certainly see how it might hurt enrollment. Usually, she noted, recessions come on slowly enough that people have a little lead time to get into the back-to-school mind-set — and to stash away some money or put off a big purchase to make the move (more) affordable.