Despite the external pressures of demographic shifts and the COVID-19 pandemic, institutions of higher learning, in particular those with a strong strategic direction and compelling vision, will continue to thrive. Those colleges and universities, large and small, with a robust history and established mission, and that have remained true to their identity, will endure this unprecedented period of uncertainty.
Next month, Assumption College will transition to Assumption University, a plan more than two years in process that is key to the strategic priorities identified for the future that will distinguish the institution amid the crowded higher education marketplace.
What began as a restructuring of the college into five separate schools will culminate in becoming a university.
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Assumption embarks upon this historic transition in the midst of an uncertain time. As we conclude the spring semester, the pressing question facing colleges and universities—and certainly on the minds of students and families—is what will “college” look like in the fall? Will we resume residential life, continue learning remotely or will it be a combination of both?
At present, that question cannot be answered with confidence or certainty. It is nearly impossible for any institution in the United States to predict what the situation will be in the next week, let alone four months from now. Those institutions of higher learning pledging that they will be open and fully operational as residential campuses come fall cannot make such promises as governors across the country continue to mitigate this crisis.
Given the continued rates of infection, prognosis of a “second-wave” of coronavirus, and the lack of testing that will be essential for any type of reopening, promising students a return to a “normal” college experience is unfair and raises false hopes.
Committing to students
Instead of making assurances that may be difficult to realize, colleges and universities should focus upon those factors that are within their control, specifically, delivering on the promise of an unparalleled commitment to students and the rich experience their institutions will offer no matter the circumstances or mode of learning.
We are cognizant that tomorrow will bring a new normal to the way in which we live and work, and also how higher education is delivered. Given the continued rates of infection, prognosis of a “second-wave” of coronavirus, and the lack of testing that will be essential for any type of reopening, promising students a return to a “normal” college experience is unfair and raises false hopes. Those institutions of higher learning that are upfront about the uncertainty of the fall semester are those that will gain the trust of their students and families and endure after this trying time has passed. Such speaks to fulfilling the commitment we make as college and university leaders to our students and families.
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We, too, desire to resume normal operations in the fall to welcome the Class of 2024 and to celebrate our transition to Assumption University. But we also know that this may not be possible. At Assumption, we offer more than an education; we strive to instill in our students the importance of seeking the truth, and practice such.
It is incumbent upon the higher education community to commit to students that we will meet them wherever they are and however we can come the fall—to provide them an education that awakens wonder, purpose and awareness of the complexities of life we confront together. Once this crisis passes, the world will need leaders who will emulate these values and institutions that hold steady in the face of adversity.
For 116 years, Assumption has adapted, endured and thrived amid increasingly daunting challenges. Firm in its mission and resolute in purpose, we are confident in the value of the truth in our approach to the 2020-21 academic year and a vibrant future as Assumption University.
Francesco C. Cesareo, Ph.D., is president of Assumption College in Worcester, Massachusetts. The college, which was founded in 1904, will become Assumption University on June 10.
UB’s coronavirus page offers complete coverage of the impacts on higher ed.