Coronavirus has significantly changed the way in which society operates. The higher education world has been heavily affected as a result of this change. And while adapting to the pandemic has been challenging for every higher education institution, some have risen to the challenge and implemented permanent improvements. The 30 colleges ahead have been particularly successful in realizing new opportunities during the coronavirus crisis.
When the pandemic reached the US, colleges across the country had to rapidly adapt to an unprecedented challenge, including streamlining online learning. Subsequently, they needed to refine their approaches when it became clear that coronavirus would remain present for a significant period of time. During this time, they also had the opportunity to formulate long-term improvements that would boost student success, institutional initiatives, campus experience, and much more. Not all colleges can demonstrate that they have done so. All the colleges in this ranking are fine examples of those that did.
Knowing which colleges have been successful in using coronavirus to create permanent solutions is important for any prospective college student, for a number of reasons. Firstly, any prospective student needs to know that coronavirus has not had a detrimental effect on the education that their college provides. Secondly, any student should know that their college options have the ability to not just respond to but rise to challenges. And thirdly, students need to be assured that any improvements brought about by coronavirus will remain in place in perpetuity.
Any one of the 30 colleges ahead is a strong choice for a student who wants to attend a college that has used the pandemic as an opportunity for long-term improvement, not just with online learning but across the board. But it’s also possible that none of the colleges ahead are right for you. If that’s the case, then this ranking can still be a vital resource in your college search. Each entry includes a detailed summary of the improvements brought about during the pandemic. These have been included for you to compare and contrast with your own college options. If any college that you’re considering has implemented similar permanent improvements during the pandemic, then that’s a strong sign that it’s a college worth attending.
Initial research for this ranking used high-quality sources that highlighted colleges that had permanently changed or were considering permanent changes during the pandemic. These are as follows:
- The Hechinger Report: While many colleges are making big cuts, a few opt for permanent transformation
- The New York Times: Will the Coronavirus Forever Alter the College Experience?
- Harvard Business Review: Higher Ed Needs a Long Term Plan for Virtual Learning:
- Politico: Covid-19 changed education in America – Permanently. Here’s How
- The Chronicle of Higher Education: The Pandemic May Have Permanently Altered Campuses. Here’s How
- Forbes: Post Pandemic: How Must Colleges and Universities Reinvent Themselves
- The Chronicle of Higher Education: Strategic Tech Decisions During the Pandemic
- NPR: How The Coronavirus Has Upended College Admissions
After identifying applicable colleges in these sources, we then conducted further research to identify further improvements that the college had implemented on a permanent basis. We then sorted the strongest colleges into the final ranking.
The criteria for the colleges in this ranking are as follows: Evidence of the college implementing a wide range of improvements, evidence of the college applying innovative improvements, and evidence that the changes help on a perpetual basis.
The ranking, from 30 to one, is here:
30. Temple University
In October 2020, Temple University stated that it had launched a new strategic planning process. The college aims for this to, “be the most sweeping analysis of our university and its future conducted at Temple in modern times.” The college also stated that strategic planning would be a vital aspect of highlighting its ambitions to a new president. Shawn Abbot, Temple University’s vice provost for admissions, financial aid, and enrollment management told NPR that the pandemic is creating a revolution in college admissions.
29. University of Rochester
Rochester, New York
In early 2022, the University of Rochester was still in the early stages of shaping its next strategic plan. The details of this planning process indicate that the college is seeking to implement a number of significant changes. For instance, the college states that it is researching a number of strategic pathways, with some of these titled “Reimagining Education,” “Building Healthier Lives,” “Connecting with the Community,” and “Cultivating an Inclusive Climate.” The New York Times speaks to the University of Rochester’s vice president for online learning, Eric Fredericksen, who explains that the pandemic will evolve online education.
28. University of California, Berkeley
The Chronicle of Higher Education notes that the pandemic has allowed the University of California, Berkeley to improve its analytics and technology in delivering online donor experiences. The college has also broadened its student experience offerings since the onset of coronavirus. For example, in March 2021, the college announced that all first-year students had the option to attend their first year on the Mills College campus in Oakland. This experience caters to students who want to spend time studying in a small liberal arts college yet have, “the resources and opportunities of a large research university.”
27. Stanford University
Since the onset of the pandemic, Stanford University has made many changes. For instance, in the summer of 2020, the college’s impact labs created partnerships to fight social issues, with one example being the Stanford Future Bay Initiative. The college has also taken steps to address historical injustices on the campus, such as creating a committee to research claims that the college deliberately limited the admissions of Jewish people in the 1950s and to enhance current Jewish student life on campus. Politico highlights that to combat inequality in admissions, the Stanford Faculty Senate voted to ask the college to require college applicants to list the people who had read through their applications.
26. Purdue University
West Lafayette, Indiana
In March 2020, Purdue University created Purdue for Life. This foundation has since helped friends and alumni of the college stay connected and get involved with new opportunities. The activities of Purdue for Life have proved so successful that in early 2022, the college’s president cited it as a stand-out achievement and claimed that it, “promises a dramatically broader future of lifelong service to Purdue graduates.” Forbes cites Purdue University as a college that has previously made acquisitions that will benefit its performance in a post-pandemic world.
25. Willamette University
A number of changes during the coronavirus pandemic indicate that Willamette University is expanding in various ways. For instance, in 2021, the college stated that it had expanded its affiliations with the Claremont School of Theology and was taking over the Pacific Northwest College of Art. The college’s existing schools were also expanding. For example, the College of Arts and Sciences offered a new BS and a new MS in data science. The college also began orchestrating a new strategic plan in late 2021, with its implementation set for the summer and fall of 2022. The Hechinger Report highlights Willamette University’s takeover of the Pacific Northwest College of Art as an example of a college making a major change during the pandemic.
24. Metropolitan State University of Denver
In early 2020, Metropolitan State University of Denver was nearing the launch of its strategic plan for the next decade. However, the onset of the coronavirus pandemic led to a pause, with each of the priorities being re-examined for a post-pandemic world. The final strategic plan, which was launched in 2021, has many instances of the college adapting its goals to serve students despite an uncertain future. For instance, one of the pillars of the current plan is student access, service, and achievement, with one of the goals for achieving this pillar being to make a flexible curriculum, which will make the transfer process easier. The Hechinger Report also notes that the Metropolitan State University of Denver opened the Skills Lab in 2020, which, for no charge, quickly retrained people who had lost their jobs. The college has since decided to keep the Skills Lab in operation permanently.
23. Goodwin University
East Hartford, Connecticut
In the summer of 2021, Goodwin University trialed a continuing education program for high school teachers. This initial program was so successful that future continuing education programming events were soon organized. During the pandemic, the college was also able to secure funding for a campus center for student veterans, named the Operation Academic Support for Incoming Service. The Hechinger Report notes that during the coronavirus pandemic, Goodwin University began a collaboration with Paier College of Art and the University of Bridgeport. In May 2021, Goodwin University acquired the ownership of the University of Bridgeport.
22. Robert Morris University
In May, 2021, Robert Morris University announced some significant changes in its strategic course. One of the most beneficial changes for students was the opening of the Center for Equity and Professional Advancement, which was funded with a $500,000 gift. The college also stated at this time that it was ending its NCAA ice hockey teams due to the need to focus more resources on offering more agile and professionally focused education. Robert Morris University’s provost, Mary Ann Rafoth, told The Chronicle of Higher Education that the college was planning to make flexible and hybrid and online learning a permanent part of the college’s educational approach.
21. Emerson College
The interim president of Emerson College, William P. Gilligan, highlighted in his 2021 State of the College announcement a number of important permanent changes that the college had made during the pandemic. Some of the most impressive of these changes include the signing of partnerships with colleges in Argentina, France and Spain, and the launch of a new scholarship program that supports historically marginalized students throughout their education. The Hechinger Report notes that Emerson College completed its takeover of Marlboro College during the pandemic.
20. Framingham State University
In March, 2021, the president of Framingham State University, Javier Cevallos, announced that he was retiring in August, 2022. This retirement is scheduled to align with the completion of the college’s current strategic plan. In December, 2021, the college named its choice of replacement president, Dr. Nancy Niemi. Dr. Niemi was chosen due to her, “passion and vision for the future.” Even before this replacement had been announced, the college celebrated a number of important achievements that would lead to permanent changes. For instance, in August, 2021, the college gained $441,000 in funding to decrease the student cost of textbooks by creating a supply of free open educational resources. The Chronicle of Higher Education notes that Framingham State University is piloting the usage of virtual reality as a permanent part of its education.
19. Hamilton College
Clinton, New York
In June, 2021, Hamilton College announced that it had been focusing upon boosting its goal for carbon neutrality. A significant way in which it was achieving this was by reforesting 150 acres of land. In November, 2021, the college also stated that it had been gifted a significant amount of money to create the Arthur Levitt Public Affairs Center Fund. This fund, “will provide students with enhanced immersive public policy experiences, direct access to policy innovators, additional summer research fellowships, new public service internships, and an annual post-graduate fellowship.” The New York Times references Hamilton College as a college that made a significant effort to aid faculty members during the pandemic.
18. The New School
New York City, New York
In early 2020, The New School appointed a new president. Since this time, the college has participated in a range of planning efforts, with the pandemic having a significant effect on the result. For example, in November, 2020, the college launched the Parsons Entrepreneur Academy, a digital platform that aims to ensure that creatives can turn their art into businesses. It does this via one-to-one mentorships, community networking and self-guided courses. The Hechinger Report also notes the college has created a number of online survey courses in practical subject matter to provide employable skills at a lower cost.
17. Unity College
In the Spring of 2021, Unity College announced that it was opening the Technical Institute for Environmental Professions in the 2021 to 2022 academic year. This institute’s focus is on highly flexible education that allows individuals to upskill, retrain and start new careers in high-demand industries. This center follows previous significant structural changes to the educational system at Unity College. For example, as The Hechinger Report notes, in 2020, the college decided to change its academic structure from two academic semesters in the fall and spring to eight five-week terms year-round. The college also decided to allow students to enroll whenever they want, study in person or participate in online learning and pay per term.
16. University of Lynchburg
In June, 2021, University of Lynchburg announced the launch of a program that the college’s president, Dr. Alison Morrison-Shetlar, had been pursuing since she assumed the role the previous summer. This initiative is called Lynchburg Tomorrow, and it consists of a collaboration between the college and city officials. It will bring together, “organizations, nonprofits, agencies, schools, government, faith-based institutions, business and industry, and citizens ‘to promote a culture that will lead to creating a thriving city.’” The college also stated that it believed that this initiative will result in lasting community change and collaboration. University of Lynchburg’s dean of the College of Business, Dr. Nancy Hubbard, spoke to Forbes, stating that the college had sought to launch new majors in high-paying fields, such as actuarial science.
15. Clemson University
Clemson, South Carolina
In September, 2020, Clemson University announced that its Center for Aviation and Automotive Technological Education using Virtual E-Schools had secured $4 million in new funding from the US government. This funding has created a program named A², and it will partner with a number of other colleges and industry partners for, “the design and development of high-quality, cost-effective e-learning tools for automotive and aviation manufacturing workforce education.” Forbes also notes that the college’s head of business education, Wendy York, has created a popular new class based upon the pandemic’s events named Leadership Lessons, Leading in a Crisis.
14. Wake Technical Community College
Raleigh, North Carolina
In April, 2021, Wake Technical Community College’s Board of Trustees approved a new strategic plan. This plan has the vision to reach a wider range of students than ever before. It is doing this by targeting economically vulnerable areas of its home county, partnering with public schools, creating dual enrollment programs, creating scholarship programs and more. The college also plans to boost the support that it can offer students once they are enrolled, such as by creating a diversity, equity and inclusion committee and by hiring more diverse faculty and staff members. And to increase its retention rates, the college intends to expand and implement a wider range of hybrid in-person/online educational offerings. In The Chronicle of Higher Education, Wake Technical Community College’s president elaborates on how it will do this, stating that its education would utilize video and gamification to supplement its lectures.
13. Georgia Institute of Technology
The Scheller College of Business at Georgia Institute of Technology has launched a new strategic plan that was created during 2020 and 2021. This strategic plan has developed an approach to improve its education for a world that the pandemic has significantly altered. For instance, one of the ways in which it will achieve its first key objective, which is to enhance student learning experiences and outcomes, is to expand its scope and size of program offerings through, “providing online and specialty master’s degrees, certificates, lifelong learning, and more.” The Chronicle of Higher Education also notes that due to increasing online degree enrollments, Georgia Institute of Technology is creating co-working spaces in the cities that contain the highest percentages of its virtual students.
12. Boston University
In 2020, Boston University made a number of changes that sought to improve student experiences and outcomes. Some examples include the creation of a senior diversity officer position, the launch of the Community Safety Advisory Group and the opening of the Newbury Center, which provides significantly more resources for first-generation students. The college has continued to make permanent changes in 2021, such as making flexible remote working options a part of its staffing policies. Forbes states that pre-pandemic acquisitions by Boston University have helped it adapt to a post-pandemic world.
11. Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University
In late 2021, Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University announced that it had strengthened its ties with a leading aerospace and defense company, Northrop Grumman. The company committed $12.5 million to the college to support increased research and teaching in the fields of quantum information science and engineering. It also became a strategic partner in the college’s innovation campus in the process. The college has also altered its education to become more relevant to a post-pandemic world, such as by launching an interdisciplinary exploration course titled The Future of Work. The New York Times notes that Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University has amended its education during the pandemic.
10. Duke University
Durham, North Carolina
In March, 2021, Duke University’s Trinity College of Arts and Sciences approved for its satisfactory/unsatisfactory grading system to remain available permanently. And in 2020, the college also made efforts to make the college a more diverse place, such as by creating a $16 million grant to hire a wider amount of diverse faculty members, by establishing a Low-Income First-Generation Engagement Steering Committee and by launching professional development opportunities for all staff members. Harvard Business Review notes that Duke University was able to rapidly adapt to coronavirus. Additionally, one of the article’s authors, Matthew Rascoff, is the associate vice provost for digital education and innovation at the college.
9. Tulane University
New Orleans, Louisiana
The president of Tulane University, Mike Fitts, announced in October, 2020, that he was launching a number of initiatives to boost the college’s diversity and local engagement efforts. Specifically, he was doing this via the relaunch of the President’s Commission on Racial Equity, Diversity and Inclusion. This commission was tasked with creating a leadership institute, distributing $2.5 million in funding and more. The college has also expanded and enhanced its infrastructure during the pandemic. In December, 2020, the college received a $1 million gift to renovate the Athletics Department’s academic center, and in November, 2021, the college signed a long-term lease to occupy 350,000 square feet of a former hospital building. NPR spoke to Tulane University’s director of undergraduate admissions, Jeff Schiffman, who stated that the college was resetting how it reviews college applications.
8. New York University
New York City, New York
In 2020 and 2021, New York University was able to use the pandemic to form a range of partnerships and launch a number of opportunities. For example, in February, 2021, the college announced that its nursing school had partnered with Howard University’s nursing school to improve health equity; and in November, 2020, the college launched a new collaborative research alliance with Columbia University and Takeda Pharmaceutical Company with the end goal of creating treatments for people with gastrointestinal and liver issues. The college is also seeking to enhance its home city on a permanent basis in a post-pandemic world through the NYC 2025 Initiative, which unites a range of experts to discuss ways in which New York City can become more inclusive. The Hechinger Report notes that New York University has also created a number of online practical skills-based courses during the pandemic.
7. Dartmouth College
Hanover, New Hampshire
In January, 2022, Dartmouth College announced that, thanks to securing an anonymous $40 million gift, the college was immediately adopting a need-blind international admissions policy. This will, “strengthen Dartmouth’s ability to enroll talented undergraduates from across the globe.” In 2021, the college also released a new strategic plan, with the document intended to act as a guide for the institution’s advancement over the next 30 years. The New York Times spoke to Dartmouth College professor Vijay Govindarajan, who belongs to the Tuck School of Business. He encouraged readers to use the pandemic to begin a larger conversation concerning the entire design of higher education.
6. The University of Rhode Island
Kingston, Rhode Island
During the pandemic, The University of Rhode Island has been successful in securing funding that will lead to permanent improvements in its education and operations. For example, in the summer of 2020, it launched the Big Ideas. Bold Plans. fundraising campaign. This campaign initially had the goal of raising $250 million for transformative investments across the college ecosystem. But in late 2021, the campaign was proving so successful that the total fundraising goal was increased by $50 million to $300 million. The Chronicle of Higher Education also notes that The University of Rhode Island has improved its student housing permanently as a result of the pandemic, with the college deciding to eliminate the vast majority of its triple dorm rooms.
5. Amarillo College
Thanks to a $15 million gift, Amarillo College’s new Innovation Outpost has been able to create a Career Accelerator, which opened in the fall of 2021. This accelerator offers two 10-week certifications in high-demand skills. The certification are tuition-free, and accepted students gain $2,500 stipends. The college is also taking steps to permanently improve the entire American educational system. For instance, in May, 2021, the college joined the REP4 initiative, which is made up of six colleges and hundreds of high schools/community partners and aims to, “address the urgent challenges of access and completion to fully deliver on higher education’s promise of social and economic mobility.” Politico highlights how the staff members at Amarillo College have been dedicated to supporting students throughout the pandemic.
4. California State University, Stanislaus
Forbes states that California State University, Stanislaus is focusing on implementing strategies that support its Hispanic student population. An example of these efforts is the college collaborating with the University of Texas to create the Hispanic-Serving Institutions Career Expo. The Chronicle of Higher Education notes that during the pandemic, many California State University colleges have sought to expand on-campus facilities. California State University, Stanislaus has followed this model, with it using $54 million of funding to enhance its Stockton campus, which will also allow it to enroll an additional 115 students.
3. Arizona State University
As a result of coronavirus, Arizona State University decided to permanently improve its ability for students to learn and research outdoors with the installation of aluminum shade structures, enhanced wi-fi and outdoor electrical outlets, states The Chronicle of Higher Education. Additionally, Arizona State University’s late 2020 update to its strategic plan stated that it was proposing a New Economy Initiative. This initiative aims to raise a total of $64.9 million to invest in expanded academic programming, expanded student support, the hiring of new faculty and the founding of science and technology centers. The college has since announced that the Arizona legislature and governor had authorized this initiative.
2. Cornell University
Ithaca, New York
In November, 2021, Cornell University’s president, Martha E. Pollack, thanked the college community for making significant advancements despite the pandemic. Some examples of these new initiatives include the College of Veterinary Medicine’s establishment of the Department of Public and Ecosystem Health, the Yang-Tan Institute on Employment and Disability securing $3.3 million in funding to improve the outcomes of youth involved in the justice/foster care systems and the launch of a $5 billion fundraising campaign, which will dedicate $500 million for financial aid and student support access. The Chronicle of Higher Education also notes that the college has improved its outdoor wi-fi coverage and installed outdoor electrical outlets. Cornell University’s vice provost for enrollment, Jonathan Burdick, told NPR that he believes that the pandemic will turn out to be a blessing for the future of college admissions.
1. University of Michigan
Ann Arbor, Michigan
During the pandemic, the University of Michigan has been successful in expanding its operations. For example, in October 2021, the college announced that in the previous fiscal year, it had signed a record number of commercialization agreements. The college also stated that these partnerships were likely to increase in future years, thanks to the formation of new initiatives, such as Innovation Partnerships and the Corporate Research Alliances team. Similarly, ambitious programs have launched across the college. For instance, in November 2021, the college’s Stephen M. Ross School of Business gained $8.5 million and set the goal of raising $200 million more “to boost the business school’s ability to recruit exceptional students through scholarships and provide funding for educational and experiential opportunities at Michigan Ross and Beyond.” Harvard Business Review states that the University of Michigan’s Center for Academic Innovation has helped it change during the pandemic. One of the article’s authors, James DeVaney, is also the associate vice provost for academic innovation at the college.
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