Higher Ed Pivots with Virus Crisis, Business Demands

At the most recent quarterly meeting of the Alabama Commission on Higher Education, ACHE Director Jim Purcell reported that Alabama colleges and universities are taking a path toward increased distance learning, adding more career-oriented programs and struggling to deal with decreases in enrollment revenues, while directing $900 million in emergency relief grants to students to offset expenses related to disruption of campus operations owing to the virus crisis.

“The ability to change quickly was crucial for higher education in March. Now we must take lessons learned and apply them to the future,” said Purcell.

Alabama’s higher education institutions are in the same adaptive mode as other states, Purcell told the Commission. Alabama’s institutions will expand the use of technology in instruction and revise their course offerings to allow more focus on preparation for careers, including offering of micro credentials that are industry specific.

Of the $1.8 billion Alabama received from the Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security (CARES) Act, reported Purcell, half of that amount was earmarked for emergency financial aid grants to students. Some of the eligible expenses included a student’s cost of attendance, such as food, housing, course materials, technology, health care and childcare.

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Business leaders have expressed their desire to know what a job candidate can do for their company, rather than just hold a degree, said Purcell. To answer those demands, “meta majors” will be offered that are designed to get students on a pathway quickly and help those who are undecided.

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