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APLU Survey & Interviews of Public University Leaders Identify Biggest Challenges Facing Public University Leaders & Find “How COVID-19 Changed Everything and Nothing at All”

Washington, DC –The Association of Public and Land-grant Universities (APLU) today released a new report called “How COVID Changed Everything and Nothing at All” in Higher Education. The report, which was developed in partnership with Blue Moon Consulting Group, a boutique higher ed crisis management consultancy, and SimpsonScarborough, a leading research and marketing firm focused on higher education is based on quantitative and qualitative research the association conducted of its members in late 2019 and early 2020, prior to the pandemic.

The research focused on identifying and better understanding the top challenges facing public research university leaders with the top three issues identified in the quantitative survey being government funding with 77 percent rating it as a big challenge; student mental health and well-being at 68 percent, and diversity and inclusion at 63 percent. The full report is available at www.aplu.org/June2020ChallengesReport.

“As public institutions of higher learning, our role is to partner with and serve our communities, to be engines of economic and social change,” said APLU President Peter McPherson. “In the past few months, COVID-19 has exacerbated already existing challenges facing public research university, including a significant loss of state funding, a precipitous increase in the demand for student mental health resources and the need to ensure the promise of a higher education is equitably accessible and achievable for students from all backgrounds, including those who are African American and others of color. That includes having diverse faculty and staff as well. Our institutions must be at the fore of tackling these entrenched issues and are working collectively to address them and to call on policymakers to provide funding and support where needed. As they address these challenges, our members are simultaneously playing a leading role in finding a cure for COVID, we are on the front lines addressing the broader societal challenges COVID has laid bare.”

“Long-standing challenges have evolved as a result of COVID. These are no longer slow-burner issues but are on track to becoming immediate crises for higher education,” said Simon Barker, Managing Partner at Blue Moon Consulting Group that partnered with APLU in the research. “As with any crisis, it is not the underlying event but the effectiveness of the response that will matter for institutions and the sector going forward.”

“In addition to the obvious financial issues plaguing higher ed, this survey confirms the immediate need for more data and quick and effective support regarding mental health needs for today’s students,” said Dana Edwards, Partner and Chief Marketing Officer at Simpson Scarborough, APLU’s research partner in this survey. “Colleges and universities, put simply, don’t know what they don’t know on this topic. The issue of mental health must be a priority during this extremely stressful time given the impact of COVID on the lives of students both on and off campus.”

To help colleges and universities weather the financial challenges from COVID-19, APLU and other higher education associations are urging Congress, among other things, to provide $47 billion in emergency relief to support students and university operations and another $26 billion to support research activities.

Five hundred-eighty-eight individuals at APLU member schools were surveyed in late fall 2019 with follow-on interviews with presidents and chancellors conducted in late 2019 and early 2020, almost all before COVID-19 became a pressing issue.

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