Individual/Institutional Changes and Impact from COVID-19 in Higher Education

Kristin Horan
Assistant Professor
University of Central Florida

NEED: The COVID-19 pandemic brought unprecedented changes for individuals and the institutions they belong to, as well as uncertainty over the lasting educational and occupational impacts (e.g., Shillington et al., 2020). Higher education institutions have grappled with very different problems at various points in the pandemic (Deloitte, 2020), necessitating longitudinal research. Additionally, risk, resources, and behavioral norms are likely shaped by several institutional characteristics, highlighting the need for research that incorporates a focus on institutional characteristics. GUIDING QUESTIONS: Using a three-wave survey among faculty and undergraduate students belonging to a multi-institution sample, we sought to answer the following questions: 1. What changes will individuals report regarding their behavior or circumstances during the COVID-19 pandemic? 2. What changes will individuals report regarding their institution during the COVID-19 pandemic? 3. What is the anticipated and observed impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on educational and career milestones? OUTCOMES: We used a modified stratified sampling procedure in which universities were invited to participate based on proportions of institutional control (private not-for-profit vs. public), institution size, degree of urbanization (rural, suburban, town, vs. city settings), and minority-serving institution status characteristics in the Integrated Postsecondary Education Data System (IPEDS, 2018). Online surveys assessing individual changes, institutional changes, anticipated impact, and observed impact were distributed in late Summer 2020 (Time 1), late Fall 2020 (Time 2), and Spring 2021 (Time 3). Among individuals invited from 31 selected institutions, 2,228 individuals participated in the first survey (85.1% undergraduate students, 14.9% faculty; 59.8% female; average age = 27 years; 77.7% Caucasian), 696 responded to the Time 2 survey (response rate = 31.2%) and 912 responded to the Time 3 survey (response rate = 40.9%).Results of descriptive analyses revealed themes of increases in preventative behaviors, dependent care, and remote work for individuals, particularly between the first and second survey. When assessing institutional change, the most common reported changes were announcements regarding online instruction in the current and future semesters, and changes in grading policies, course evaluations, and tenure/promotion processes. Some university characteristics did seem to differentiate course-focused changes (institution type and institution size) and personnel-focused changes (institution size and minority-serving status). Finally, students and faculty expected and observed the most negative impact for milestones that are dependent on events, resources, or trends outside of the university (e.g., finding an internship or a job). Students seemed to anticipate a slightly more negative impact on most milestones, but at the one-year point, seemed to report an impact closer to neutral, while faculty anticipated and observed impact tended to be more negative. BROADER IMPACTS: This study highlights the value of understanding changes in higher education institutions related to the COVID-19 pandemic both across multiple timepoints in the pandemic and across a variety of higher education institutions. The results suggest that time and institution characteristics shape individual changes, institution changes (most likely though resources associated with institution type), and the perceived/observed impact of the pandemic on educational and career milestones.


Chelsea LeNoble, Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University; Mindy Shoss, University of Central Florida; Zoe Politis, University of Central Florida