CHAPEL HILL — From higher technology costs to a significant drop in anticipated giving, universities are getting hit hard by the coronavirus crisis.

On Tuesday, a panel of experts convened by UNC Kenan-Flagler Business School and its affiliated Kenan Institute of Private Enterprise are expected to discuss via webinar the impact of the virus had, and will continue to have, on higher education and related educational technology.

UNC Kenan-Flagler Business School Dean Doug Shackelford will be among those to share his insights.

WRAL TechWire’s Chantal Allam recently had the chance to pose some questions to him to get a preview. Here’s what he had to say:

  • Talk to us about the financial and business challenges COVID-19 poses for universities around the world?

The financial and business challenges are enormous. The first challenge is to protect your most important assets: your people. How do you keep your people safe and working?

At UNC Kenan-Flagler, we are focusing on three priorities: ensure the health and safety of community, keep students learning and on track to graduation, and continue to teach, research and serve at the highest levels. To achieve that, students have been attending classes online since March 23, and faculty and staff are working remotely.

Doug Shackelford, UNC Kenan-Flagler

UNC Kenan-Flagler is fully operational online. The School’s IT team is supporting class meetings on Zoom every day, with the number of people participating ranging from a few thousand to more than 5,500 a day. Meetings and events moved online, too, including town halls for faculty and staff and career and social events for students. It’s been a mammoth undertaking to move classes online for so many students: business majors and minors, on-campus MAC students, on-campus MBA students, Evening MBA, Weekend Executive MBA and PhD students. Many professors had never taught online, just as most of our students had not learned online. It’s a sea change.

The Undergraduate Business Program (UBP) perhaps had the greatest hurdles, helping 1,100 business majors and minors navigate a drastically different educational experience – not returning to campus, moving to classes online and learning from home instead of from Chapel Hill.

The rapid pace of change and the need to make vital decisions with incomplete information is a challenge. Over 260 students were studying abroad or slated to go abroad as the implications of COVID-19 were still not fully understood. The UBP global team made early and unpopular decisions to cancel their programs and get students home safely. Students weren’t just heartbroken; they are to scrambling to make other plans – signing up for different courses, look for internships, sign for summer school. With no study abroad this summer, enrollments for summer school are at record highs.

Our fundraisers are grounded, faculty are missing international events where they exchange ideas and research, and because companies have stopped travel, our Executive Development programs are on pause. Students’ job interviews are online and most summer internships will be remote.

  • What are some of the technology costs, and what are the impacts of that?

The greatest costs are to our IT team – the demand for time and expertise. When it first became clear we needed to move remote teaching and working, the OT worked 24/7 to prepare us in terms of equipment, knowledge and skills, and ongoing support. Some faculty had never taught using Zoom, students were scattered around the world, needing help.

  • What are the short-term implications?

None of us have experienced anything like this and it’s taken a toll on our community, especially our students whose dreams spending spring semester at Carolina, studying abroad and attending May commencement don’t match their reality today. We are doing our best together as we adapt, learn and grow.

We’re moving out of the “crisis” mode into preparing for what might be next. There’s no clear roadmap for post-COVID life, so we are making a variety of continency plans about amid continuing change.

Change will continue and it will not be linear. Tremendous challenges await UNC Kenan-Flagler as the full costs – human and economic – become clearer. I am confident that we will come through this better than ever. The School attracts mission-driven, caring, good people and we are living our core as we navigate this crisis together. We will continue to provide world-class education, research and service – even as we are scattered, working and learning from our homes.

  • What are some of the long-term implications?

It’s too early to tell. The financial recovery will not be quick. Because of the economic crisis, fewer students might attend college or graduate schools. Companies might stop investing in their employees’ professional development. Donors might be more motivated to give than ever before because the need will be great.

We have already experienced some small innovations and silver linings and innovations, and a strong sense of being in this together – putting our students first.

We already provide top-ranked online programs where student learning and engagement are exceptional. We are learning lessons about the challenges and benefits from this enforced period of working remotely. We’ve learned we can do just about anything online, but everything isn’t better online. As social beings, we need to gather and interact, to share ideas and feelings. Working online is a substitute, not a long-term replacement for everything we do.