30 Colleges With Ambitious Post-Pandemic Plans

The coronavirus pandemic is receding. Even the chief of The World Health Organization has acknowledged that the end of the pandemic is in sight. With the pandemic’s official endpoint on the horizon, many institutions are currently seizing opportunities that have been restricted since 2020. Some colleges have created strong plans to take advantage of post-pandemic opportunities and are already initiating these strategies. The 30 colleges ahead are some of the strongest examples.

Naturally, a significant potential barrier to the success of any plan is funding. This is especially true since the onset of the coronavirus, as many colleges have experienced budget deficits. Therefore, colleges demonstrating that they have gained significant amounts of funding for post-pandemic activities have been ranked highest on this list.

There is no one way for a college to take advantage of a post-pandemic world. Opportunities exist within numerous industries. Due to this, this ranking also seeks to highlight colleges that have created plans that take advantage of a wide range of opportunities and have devised numerous means of achieving their plans’ goals.

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Any one of the 30 colleges ahead is a strong choice for a prospective student who wants to attend a college that ensures that it gets ahead in the post-pandemic world. However, it’s also possible that none of the colleges ahead are right for you. If this is the case, then this ranking can still be a vital resource in your college search. Every entry summarizes how the college is acting on post-pandemic opportunities. These have been included for you to compare and contrast with your own college options. If any college you’re considering has a similar strategy to the 30 colleges ahead, then that’s a strong indication that it’s a college worth attending.

Methodology

The sources used in this ranking focus on a specific aspect of post-pandemic planning, such as enrollment or campus redesign. Other sources highlight innovative strategies that colleges undertook during the pandemic itself, which are likely to be adapted into a post-pandemic environment. However, after sourcing all of the colleges from these lists, we researched the institutions to ensure that the colleges were working on numerous post-pandemic activities. This research has formed the final basis for inclusion in the ranking.

Our list of sources is as follows:

The final ranking uses the following criteria:

  • evidence of the college pursuing a broad range of post-pandemic opportunities
  • evidence of the college gaining funding for post-pandemic activities
  • evidence of innovation in pursuing post-pandemic opportunities
  • aggregated mentions in methodology lists

The final ranking, from 30 to one, is here:

30. University of California, Los Angeles

Los Angeles, California

Website

UCLA logo

In late 2021, the University of California, Los Angeles’s Academic Senate outlined how the institution can boost research in a post-pandemic environment. This outline included plans for recovering the lapse in research conducted during the pandemic, such as through establishing programs intended to correct inequalities in lapsed research, and plans for boosting long-term research goals, such as through restructuring research communities. The Wall Street Journal notes that the University of California, Los Angeles, also boosts admissions by enrolling a higher percentage of community college transfer students.

29. Macalester College

Saint Paul, Minnesota

Website

Macalester College logo

Throughout the first 10 months of 2022, Macalester College worked with its community to create a new strategic plan that would chart the college’s expansion until the year 2030. In October 2022, the college’s board of trustees unanimously approved this plan. Some of the more ambitious aspects of this plan include redesigning the college’s academic calendar and integrating with the broader Twin Cities Metro Area. It also aims to prioritize student and employee well-being. Leaders from Macalester College also spoke to HGA to discuss its campus post-pandemic planning priorities.

28. Normandale Community College

Bloomington, Minnesota

Website

Normandale Community College logo

The planning for Normandale Community College’s current strategic plan began in late 2020 and was approved in late 2021. This plan has three major goals, with the most ambitious of these being to “achieve racial equity in educational outcomes by 2025.” The other major goals of the college are to improve the degree completion rate of students significantly by 2030 and to pursue a college culture that is service oriented. It will achieve these outcomes in several ways, including:

  • expanding student support
  • improving hiring and engagement practices
  • using equity frameworks with data t:o ensure change

Normandale Community College leaders discussed its ambitions with HGA.

27. Kingsborough Community College, City University of New York

New York City, New York

Website

Kingsborough Community College

When the coronavirus pandemic reached America, Kingsborough Community College, City University of New York was already working on its next strategic plan. The plan was then delayed to revise the college’s goals in the new environment, which has benefited the final strategy. This final strategy has several ambitious goals, such as:

  • improving student success
  • expanding strategic partnerships

It also outlines new methods that are likely to be implemented in a post-pandemic world, such as:

  • assigning advisors to incoming freshmen before they are registered
  • forming agreements with institutions such as The Brooklyn Museum to boost internships

Inside Higher Ed notes that Kingsborough Community College, City University of New York, has been innovative during the pandemic and that its innovations are likely to remain in place in the future.

26. Florida State University

Tallahassee, Florida

Website

Florida State University logo

The international ties of Florida State University have been strengthening as the world moves out of the pandemic. For instance, in November 2022, the college announced that its international student enrollment and the number of American students applying for study-abroad opportunities exceeded pre-pandemic levels. The college is also building connections with major international figures. One example is the Brazilian ambassador Nestor Forster, who spoke at the college in September 2022 regarding the college’s research activity in Brazil. Florida State University’s leaders also spoke with HGA on the future of college campuses.

25. North Carolina State University

Raleigh, North Carolina

Website

North Carolina State University logo

In March 2021, North Carolina State University’s Chancellor created the Post COVID-19 Innovation Task Force Steering Committee with the express purpose of adapting changes that had been made to the college in the previous year. This task force provided some recommendations, such as:

  • investing further in technology
  • supporting varied course delivery options
  • improving recruitment efforts for research staff members

In 2021, the college also created a new strategic plan, which outlined priorities until the year 2030. Some of this strategy’s goals include:

  • increasing student empowerment activities
  • expanding engagement with the State of North Carolina
  • and developing innovative partnerships

Knoll notes that North Carolina State University has increased its laptop lending program significantly since the pandemic’s start.

24. California Polytechnic State University, San Luis Obispo

San Luis Obispo, California

Website

Cal Poly San Luis Obispo logo

In 2020, California Polytechnic State University, San Luis Obispo, launched a new campus master plan that plotted the development of the campus until the year 2035. This master plan aims to allow the college to better achieve several goals, such as:

  • increasing diversity
  • housing more students
  • becoming more environmentally friendly

The Change Leader, Inc notes that California Polytechnic State University, San Luis Obispo, is likely to only see marginal long-term detriments due to the pandemic.

23. University of Wisconsin System

Madison, Wisconsin

Website

University of Wisconsin System logo

The leadership at the University of Wisconsin System had prepared a post-pandemic blueprint as early as May 2020. The system’s president, Ray Cross, stated that he saw the pandemic as an opportunity to take more aggressive and centralized action toward their existing priorities. These actions include:

  • streamlining administrative operational functions
  • offering a wider range of collaborative online degrees
  • adjusting academic programs based on changes in projected enrollment

Individual colleges within the system have also participated in post-pandemic activities. For example, the University of Wisconsin, Oshkosh, has planned a late 2022 K-12 leadership conference focusing on how teachers can rise to post-pandemic challenges. The college system’s leaders also discussed rethinking campuses with HGA.

22. University of Massachusetts, Lowell

Lowell, Massachusetts

Website

UMASS Lowell logo

In May 2022, the University of Massachusetts, Lowell, promoted Dr. Julie Chen to the position of chancellor. A major factor contributing to this promotion was the fact that she had previously grown the college’s research franchise to an operation that gained $95 million annually. Dr. Chen plans to continue improving the college’s research acumen in her new role, to improve the college’s ranking on the Carnegie Classification of Institutions to Research 1 status. HGA spoke with the University of Massachusetts, Lowell, to discuss the post-pandemic campus.

21. George Mason University

Fairfax, Virginia

Website

 George Mason University logo

In 2021, George Mason University launched a strategic plan with several ambitious goals. These include:

  • making the college more affordable
  • enhancing student success initiatives
  • expanding economic development contributions
  • adopting digital innovations

It aims to achieve these goals with new initiatives. For instance, to make the college more affordable, it is improving its financial aid policy to increase need-based assistance. The Wall Street Journal notes that George Mason University is participating in a Common Application trial program that guarantees tuition-free enrollment for high-performing, low-income high school students.

20. New York University

New York City, New York

Website

New York University

The Urban Democracy Lab at New York University has launched a project named Beyond The Pandemic, which has the goal of improving social problems exposed by coronavirus by thinking “outside of the confines of usual policy proposals and the staid market orthodoxy.” And to improve its home city, in late 2021, the college released the “NYC 2025” policy proposals to aid the city government as it emerges into a post-pandemic environment. It consists of 15 individual proposals, which offer practical means for the city to become more inclusive in various vital areas, such as healthcare and housing. Brightspot uses New York University as an example of how colleges can grow in the post-pandemic world by expanding their satellite locations.

19. Columbia University

New York City, New York

Website

Columbia University in the City of New York logo

In 2020, Columbia University created a major new sustainability plan with the goal of implementing over the next decade several “aggressive sustainability goals, grounded in climate science.” Overall, these measures will result in the college achieving net zero emissions by the year 2050. In late 2022, the college’s Community College Research Center also announced that it would be leading a research network focused on pandemic recovery. Inside Higher Ed also notes that Columbia University is likely to retain several innovative pandemic educational flexibility offerings on a permanent basis.

18. Yale University

New Haven, Connecticut

Website

Yale University logo

In 2021, Yale University’s President, Peter Salovey, announced that the college had made major new commitments toward mitigating climate change. This included the establishment of the Yale Center for Natural Carbon Capture and the goals of achieving net zero carbon emissions by 2035 and zero actual carbon emissions by 2050. The college’s School of Public Health has also conducted a number of round tables focused on topics such as improving healthcare access and pandemic preparedness in the future. The Wall Street Journal spoke to Zachary Bleemer, a Yale University assistant professor of economics, regarding low-income student enrollment activities.

17. Dartmouth College

Hanover, New Hampshire

Website

Dartmouth College logo

In 2022, Dartmouth College re-launched its study abroad programs, with 28 faculty programs initially taking place, which are expected to expand further in the next academic year. One newly launched program focuses on green cities and takes place in Berlin. The college’s Pandemic Security Project has also been launched to “start looking at the lessons learned from the pandemic.” It will do with by convening a range of experts in economics, biosecurity, and epidemiology to:

  • analyze COVID
  • assess preparedness
  • form answers for preventing further pandemics

The college has also stated that many of the mental health initiatives that it created during the pandemic will continue indefinitely. The office of Institutional Diversity and Equity was also expanded during the pandemic, which has resulted in three new initiatives. Leaders at Dartmouth College also participated in a discussion with HGA about the post-pandemic campus.

16. Barnard College

New York City, New York

Website

Barnard College logo

In late 2022, Barnard College announced the hiring of a new Senior Vice President of Strategic Finance and Operations, Sarah Gillman. The role will see the college expand its financial resources, capital projects, and facilities. This news came at a time when the college was implementing the finishing touches of some major new expansions, including the construction of the Francine A. LeFrak Foundation Center for Well-Being and the Roy and Diana Vagelos Science Center. The college is also focusing on assessing the long-term effects of coronavirus even after the pandemic ends. For example, in early 2022, the college gained $800,000 to study coronavirus’s long-term cardiovascular risks in healthcare workers. Inside Higher Ed notes that Barnard College made some innovations during the coronavirus, which are likely to remain in place in the post-pandemic world.

15. The University of Texas at Austin

Austin, Texas

Website

University of Texas, Austin

In the early days of the pandemic, The University of Texas at Austin rapidly collaborated with the University of Houston to devise a nine-point playbook for building a more equitable and inclusive Texas in the post-pandemic environment. The college has since continued to make ambitious plans for a post-pandemic world. For example, in October 2022, the college gained $1 million in funding to establish the Center for Pandemic Decision Science, which will “bring together scientists, engineers, clinicians and policymakers to tackle the grand challenge of preparing the world to combat future pandemic threats.” Earlier in 2022, the college also released a new strategic plan, which has the goal of making the college the world’s most impactful public research university. The University of Texas at Austin Professor Steven Mintz also authored Inside Higher Ed’s article on crafting post-pandemic strategies for colleges.

14. The College of St. Scholastica

Duluth, Minnesota

Website

College of St. Scholastica logo

When The College of St. Scholastica gained $1.3 million of government funding in 2021, Dr. Shelley Smart, who is the college’s social work department chair and project director, stated that the money would be used to have a major impact post-pandemic. Specifically, this money ensures that the college’s social work students can better help underserved communities with their behavioral health needs. In December 2021, the college also launched a $63 million fundraising campaign. This money will be used to:

  • build a student center
  • enhance scholarships
  • improve emergency prioritization

Leaders from The College of St. Scholastica also participated in a round table discussion on post-pandemic priorities with HGA.

13. Massachusetts Institute of Technology

Boston, Massachusetts

Website

Massachusetts Institute of Technology logo

In 2021, a task force planning Massachusetts Institute of Technology’s future in education stated that the college should provide a more holistic education, focusing more on student intellect and spirit. Additionally, in 2021, the college announced that its International Science and Technology Initiatives were experiencing significant surges. In fact, this program released $1.9 million in funding to 90 international projects in the 2021 academic year, resulting in a number of international partnerships. The college’s community is also working to increase the overall amount of federal funding the US dedicates to scientific research, with students and postdocs advocating for funding to lawmakers in Washington, DC, in 2022. And in late 2022, the college released a new strategic plan with the overall aims of enhancing belonging among the college community, providing further equitable opportunities, and supporting diversity among the college population. A Massachusetts Institute of Technology Economist, Glenn Ellison, spoke to The Wall Street Journal about boosting diversity among higher education institutions.

12. University of California, Davis

Davis, California

Website

University of California, Davis logo

Significant funding for post-pandemic activity has gone to the University of California, Davis. For instance, the Department of Education’s Institute for Education Sciences has granted $3 million to a team led by the college to improve the responses that California community colleges can take to navigate periods of disruption. The college also gained $2.7 million to improve digital health equity and future pandemic preparedness. In 2022, the college also released an overall strategic plan that sets several priorities for the next decade, including:

  • enhancing the diversity of the college
  • building beneficial partnerships with the community
  • improving the environment of the campus

The college’s health division has also released a five-year strategic plan, which has a major focus on improving the patient experience. University of California, Davis also participated in a round table with HGA to discuss campus planning in a post-pandemic world.

11. LaGuardia Community College, City University of New York

New York City, New York

Website

LaGuardia Community College

In 2022, LaGuardia Community College, City University of New York, succeeded in raising $15 million to support students whose educational progress was severely hampered in the pandemic. This new funding will go into initiatives ensuring students can complete their education. Since this fundraising achievement, the college has continued to raise significant figures for increased post-pandemic operations. For instance, in October 2022, it gained $3 million to train community health workers. Inside Higher Ed also notes that LaGuardia Community College is likely to continue its pandemic innovations as it expands into the post-pandemic world.

10. Rutgers University, New Brunswick

New Brunswick, New Jersey

Website

In September 2022, Rutgers University, New Brunswick, launched a new academic master plan. The plan has several bold aims, with a major goal being to improve the equality of student success rates. A number of initiatives will support this goal, such as the Excellence Scholar Collaborative, which invests $15 million in interdisciplinary college communities. Other programs within the college have ambitious goals in the post-pandemic age. For example, the New Jersey State Policy Lab is conducting research into issues, such as, challenges that women face in the workforce. New Jersey Governor Phil Murphy has stated that this research will be vital for post-pandemic recovery. The Wall Street Journal spoke to Rutgers University, New Brunswick’s Assistant Vice Chancellor of Undergraduate Admissions, Marco Dinovelli, regarding methods of increasing college enrollment of students from low-income backgrounds.

9. Northeastern University

Boston, Massachusetts

Website

Northeastern University logo

In July 2022, Northeastern University announced that it was providing a record $450 million in financial aid in the following academic year. This was just the latest major announcement indicating post-pandemic ambition. For instance, in December 2021, the college also announced that it had been awarded $500,000 to help broaden biotech job opportunities in New England. The college also amended its strategic plan in 2021 to accommodate post-pandemic planning. This updated plan aims to boost diversity, remove boundaries, improve experiential learning, and more. Northeastern University leaders also discussed the post-pandemic campus with HGA.

8. Marquette University

Milwaukee, Wisconsin

Website

Marquette University has been successful in gaining funding for ambitious post-pandemic activities. Most impressively, in December 2021, the college announced that an alumni couple had donated $5 million to the college and would give another $5 million to the college if the college could raise an independent $10 million to transform the college’s health, wellness, and recreation services. Other impressive post-pandemic plan-related fundraising efforts include receiving $325,000 from the US Department of Education to run a program that motivates and supports low-income/first-generation college students and gaining $350,000 from the Zilber Family Foundation and the Racial Equity in Journalism Fund to support its Milwaukee Neighborhood News Service nonprofit newsroom. Also, in 2021, the college launched a new strategic plan with significant goals, including improving student graduation rates, increasing research funding, and enhancing financial aid packages. In 2022, the college received a major boost in its student graduation goal thanks to a $15 million gift from the alumnus Michael R. Lovell to create a new student success center. Lora Strigens, the vice president for planning and facilities management at Marquette University, also participated in a post-pandemic campus discussion with The Chronicle of Higher Education.

7. Middle Tennessee State University

Murfreesboro, Tennessee

Website

Middle Tennessee State University logo

In late 2020, Middle Tennessee State University launched a major new plan for improving student success rates. This plan, named Quest 2025, builds on the achievements of the previous Quest for Student Success initiative. The new plan’s goals include:

  • launching new degrees for high-demand industries
  • making financial aid more accessible to students who conduct coursework over the summer
  • redesigning existing courses to increase the level of professional development/civic engagement opportunities

The college also benefits significantly from the state governor’s 2022-2023 budget, which provided over $50 million in funding for renovations within the college and over $57 million in funding for the creation of a new Aerospace Campus. The Wall Street Journal notes that Middle Tennessee State University also participates in the Common Application’s trial program to offer guaranteed tuition-free education for high-performing, low-income high school students.

6. Southern New Hampshire University

Manchester, New Hampshire

Website

Southern New Hampshire University logo

In late 2020, Southern New Hampshire University announced that it was reinventing several aspects of its financial models and higher education delivery, with implementation set for fall 2021. Included in this reinvention was:

  • a suite of new and updated academic programs
  • a more transparent financial aid process
  • a tiered tuition rate that would be reduced by more than 50% of its then-current rate

Room and board costs were also lowered. Additionally, the college was seeking to expand its in-person enrollment by an additional 1,500 students by the year 2025. Leaders from Southern New Hampshire University spoke with HGA about post-pandemic campuses. The Change Leader, Inc notes that the college’s investments will likely remain strong in the post-pandemic world. The Chronicle of Higher Education also notes that the college’s brand and model allow it to succeed in a post-pandemic environment.

5. Harvard University

Boston, Massachusetts

Website

Harvard University logo

In March 2022, Harvard University’s Future of Teaching and Learning Task Force released a report on how it could best utilize the innovations that had come from pandemic education. This report’s findings highlight how the college will likely continue blended learning and flexible learning experiences in the future. Other members of the college are attempting to improve the overall education system. For example, the dean of the Harvard Graduate School of Education has discussed the importance of schools being prepared to face post-pandemic challenges. The college is also currently teaching a course on how to lead in post-pandemic urban America. Leaders from Harvard University also spoke with HGA on rethinking the college campus post-pandemic. The Wall Street Journal also notes that the college conducted research into boosting low-income student enrollment during the pandemic.

4. Davidson College

Davidson, North Carolina

Website

Davidson College logo

To produce leaders who can prevent the next pandemic and create solutions to existing diseases, Davidson College announced in early 2021 that it was creating a Department of Public Health. Additionally, in 2022, the college permanently changed its admittance policy to make SAT and ACT test scores optional for consideration, based on the success of this measure during the pandemic. This measure allows its future enrollment demographics to be broader than ever before. Knoll notes that Davidson College has successfully used its online presence to maintain a sense of community. The Chronicle of Higher Education notes that the college also focuses on increased engagement opportunities.

3. Stanford University

Stanford, California

Website

Stanford University logo

In 2020, Stanford University President Marc Tessier-Lavigne announced that the college would be creating a new school that was focused on climate and sustainability. The president specifically stated at the time that the new school was one way in which coronavirus lockdowns allowed the college to “put in place the structures that will enable the university’s long-term success.” And to ensure that professors could catch up on missed research, the college, in 2021, launched the Post-Pandemic Research Quarter, which allows untenured faculty members to spend a quarter of the year away from teaching and service duties to focus on research. The Change Leader, Inc states that Stanford University will likely emerge from the pandemic with minimal long-term detriments. The associate dean of the college, Niraj Dangoria, also participated in a Chronicle of Higher Education discussion on the post-pandemic campus.

2. University of Notre Dame

Notre Dame, Indiana

Website

University of Notre Dame logo

In early 2022, the University of Notre Dame announced that it had created seven new advisory committees to begin the creation of its next strategic plan. This strategic plan is still being devised. However, several other news stories indicate that the college is successful in taking advantage of post-pandemic opportunities. For instance, in the 2022 fiscal year, the college received a record $244 million in research funding. The college has also enacted some financial opportunities for its community to engage with a post-pandemic world, such as the Luksic Family Collaboration Grant, which awards up to $10,000 for community members to identify new ways to collaborate with the Pontifical Catholic University of Chile. The Change Leader, Inc notes that the long-term detriments of the pandemic on the University of Notre Dame are likely to be minimal. Brightspot also notes that the college’s library lawn, which emerged during the pandemic, is likely to remain a permanent feature of the college.

1. Purdue University

West Lafayette

Website

Purdue University logo

In late 2021, Purdue University announced that the Indiana Department of Health had partnered with the college to boost healthcare resources throughout Indiana. The college also received $10.4 million in funding to achieve this goal. Also, in 2021, the college launched Next Moves, which comprised five strategic initiatives for the college to pursue in the following years. These initiatives have a budget of $260 million. Specifically, the initiatives are improving plant sciences, advancing national security and technology, boosting research funding through the Purdue Applied Research Institute, improving transformative education, and advancing college equality. HGA spoke with leaders of Purdue University to discuss the future of campuses post-pandemic. The Change Leader, Inc notes that the college has a strong chance of success in a post-pandemic world.

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