Contingency Planning for the Fall

On-Demand Webinar | Watch Anytime

June 3, 2020

While postsecondary credentials will increase in importance, enrollment may be harder to predict. Conventional wisdom suggests many more adults will return to school while academic disruptions this spring may make traditional student enrollments more unpredictable. Most higher education leaders are unsure whether or not institutions will be fully re-opening in September. The panel discusses approaches and options for the fall.

COVID-19 has thrust the higher education sector into disarray. In response, the Association of Community College Trustees (ACCT), Education Strategy Group (ESG), and The State Higher Education Executive Officers Association (SHEEO) have joined forces to produce a series of policy-related webinars designed to help higher education leaders make the comeback that will be needed to accelerate COVID-19 recovery.   


  • Dan Greenstein, Chancellor, Pennsylvania State System of Higher Education
  • Jan Yoshiwara, Executive Director, Washington State Board for Community and Technical Colleges (SBCTC)
  • Anton Reece, President of Western Kentucky Community and Technical College


  • J. Noah Brown, President and CEO, Association of Community College Trustees (ACCT)


  • With past predictive data and tools less useful in the COVID-19 era, this third webinar covers the complexity of issues facing college leaders as they make plans to reopen their colleges in the fall 2020.
  • Below is a summary of discussion highlights, followed by time-coded audience questions and panel responses.

Discussion Highlights

Guided by state mandates, college leaders from coast to coast are creatively addressing COVID-19 uncertainties with practical solutions to re-engage students. Three different leaders from three different structures reveal their perspectives and options for the fall 2020 semester.

Re-engaging for the fall

With goals to mitigate health and safety risks for students and staff, and working within state guidelines to serve communities and students, community colleges are gearing up to re-engage with students in the fall. Colleges have negotiated with their state health departments to bring back science lab, practicum, and hands-on technical programs in occupations essential to the economy and to healthcare. Colleges are already in hybrid mode with the bulk of instruction online using these opportunities to learn the safety protocols needed for fall.

Mitigating risk & expectations for re-engagement

Safety takes priority today in all reopening considerations, and college presidents provide some measure of assurance through daily and weekly updates. Signage and other safety precautions (personal protective equipment, social distancing, screens, sanitation, temperature checks, wearing masks, tracking who goes in and out of a classroom, etc.) can only mitigate (not guarantee) safety, and students and employees must be crystal clear about the college’s expectations through intentional dialogues about these demands. Some systems are producing advisory videos that detail public safety guidelines and expectations of those who return to campus.

With no health centers or available testing on campus, some systems are planning to develop a contact tracing curriculum, train college teams, and to make such training available to each college in their state. In absence of testing, staff and students will be required to do daily temperature checks and sign in to enter buildings. Nevertheless, support is needed from state and federal levels to avoid colleges “flying blind.” The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) offers guidance and other considerations for higher education institutions as a complement to state-issued guidelines.  

Enrollment and economic uncertainties

Past enrollment and economic data lose any predictive value in this situation. Uncertainties about the depth of the recession, the speed in which the economy can recover, and how willing boards and colleges are to engage in the costs have not prevented nimbleness and creativity by the colleges. Colleges are now actively ramping up their student outreach, including through social media.

Waiting until there is more clarity, universities are sorting out immediate needs first by delaying admissions and housing contracts, extending deadlines and wait lists. Panelists agree that once unemployment insurance runs out, colleges will get more competitive for students, and there will be a ripple effect as universities change their practices in admissions.  In the meantime, community colleges are actively recruiting students through letters, FAFSA completion efforts, working closely with K-12 partners for dual enrollments, and sending out communications about Pell Plus grants.

Remote student services, technology for underserved populations

Particularly with underserved populations in mind and students in rural communities with insufficient broadband, colleges attest that the infrastructure for virtual student services is already in place; the concern now is for special-needs students who require additional services. Barriers include transportation, childcare, and insufficient finances among others.

The digital divide still persists in many areas. With all state governments, colleges and other resources moved online, high-speed access is required for students to participate fully in online instruction. Many colleges have already conducted technology outreach audits and subsequently purchased laptops, hot spots, and other technologies for students to use, either on loan or as part of a grant.

Panelists confirm that they are part of a national conversation to fill those gaps in educational deserts with their state partners and agree that these equity issues must be solved.

Questions & Answers:

A number of questions posed to the speakers by moderator J. Noah Brown, president and CEO of the Association of Community College Trustees, dive into these issues and seek to arrive at concrete solutions and advice. The times below correspond with when the questions were asked during the webinar.  

4:30 What decisions have been made about reopening in the fall, and what thoughts went into arriving at those decisions?

12:15 Are there certain conditions you feel would need to be met in order to make the transition successfully and ensure the health and safety of students and faculty?

22:30 When you think about the uncertainties surrounding enrollment, coupled with what we know is happening in states with severe, and probably sustained budget cutbacks, how do you approach planning for the fall?

35:22 Are you doing anything different for dual enrollment students that might’ve been in classrooms, but now will have to continue their studies online?

40:27 How would you transition student services, whether it be financial aid, registration, counseling, to an online setting?

48:48 In terms of moving remotely and transitioning student services, are any technology audits being done to determine what capabilities students have?


This webinar is part of a series developed in partnership with our longtime partners Education Strategy Group and the State Higher Education Executive Officers. It is designed to help community college leaders accelerate community colleges' recovery during a major crisis.