The Pulse of Higher Ed

Perspectives on Online and Professional Education
from UPCEA’s Research and Consulting Experts

A Glimpse into the Future Economy after the Pandemic

COVID-19 has certainly changed our world, with more suffering yet to come. Many tragedies have reshaped society and the world economy. After the destruction and loss of life from 9/11, the financial markets and economy suffered in the short-term, but certain industries experienced longer lasting effects, primarily the airline, insurance, food and energy sectors. This pandemic will impact all industries, especially those with human interaction. As a result, it is likely that almost all industries will experience change, including higher education. It also shows how financially fragile households are, and like The Great Depression of the 1930s, behaviors will change, such as having less debt and more savings.

Higher education in the United States has been struggling for almost a decade, seeing declining demographics in over eight straight years, leaving many institutions in financial peril. Institutions that were able to diversify through online education as well as other education and training services are better prepared for the new economy, which will again change as a result of the pandemic.

The massive lifestyle and workplace disruptions experienced over the last month, and likely to last at least another month or more, have accelerated the shift to the new economy, one that is fueled by automation, artificial intelligence, predictive analytics and robotics. Society has suddenly become more accepting of not only online learning, but the delivery of prepared meals, contactless retail, remote meetings, flexible schedules, home-life balance and mental health, data-driven health prevention, remote workforce collaboration, and digital currency. Another unintended consequence is an acceleration of generational conflict, as some generations have adapted better to self-quarantine while others find it challenging.

Some key facts as a result of the pandemic of 2020:

  • In recent weeks, Zoom has emerged as the most downloaded app on the Apple App Store, repeatedly breaking its previous records. On Monday, March 23, Zoom was downloaded 2.13 million times worldwide, up from 2.04 million the day before, according to app tracking firm Apptopia. Two months prior, the app had just under 56,000 global downloads in a day.[1]

  • Broadband consumption during the hours of 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. has risen by more than 50% since January, according to broadband data company OpenVault, which measured connections in more than one million homes. Usage during the peak early-evening hours increased 20% as of March 25.[2]

  • Microsoft Teams has seen a 775% increase in the use of its cloud services since social distancing or shelter-in-place orders have been active. Microsoft Teams now has 44 million daily users that generated 900 million meeting and calling minutes.[3] Similarly, Slack volume has increased, adding 12.5 million users during a two-week period ending March 25, 2020.[4] 

"Higher education in the United States has been struggling for almost a decade....Institutions that were able to diversify through online education as well as other education and training services are better prepared for the new economy, which will again change as a result of the pandemic."

Looking into the post-pandemic workplace:

  • The study of healthcare systems and supply chains is likely to change. New systems, processes and technologies will be integrated, producing new challenges and opportunities for the workforce as well as for higher education. Existing degrees will be revised to include new content, such as health system management, public health administration, and other health topics directly related to the pandemic.

  • The way business and cultures communicate will change. Video and collaboration technologies will be more integrated into the organization, which in turn will become mainstream tools. Working at home will change the way managers and leaders function, but also how organizations make decisions, communicate, manage projects and complete assignments and duties. As a result, leaders, managers, and human resource personnel and others will need new skills for the new economy, thus creating new credentials and badges within higher education, but also a revision of curriculum for existing degrees. Workplace performance and metrics will be more important as a result, thus creating new tools, technologies and opportunities.

  • The acceptance and integration of robotics, automation and predictive analytics will accelerate. Our society has just sampled the future with new ways to communicate and collaborate, but also with the integration of new solutions and technologies to minimize human contact. The timeline for drone deliveries has now been accelerated. Drones will also play a greater role in law enforcement as we are seeing many metropolitan police officers and first responders contracting COVID-19. These drones will conduct more surveillance and first-responder situational diagnostics. In the not-too-distant future, more robots will maintain, clean or protect facilities, including warehouses that are critical to the supply chain. The integration of surveillance and chip technologies will also make the retail industry less human dependent as individuals can enter shopping or pickup areas, acquire their products and leave without any in-store financial transaction. The transaction, like the Amazon Go store concept, will record automatically to a digital record and digital finances.

  • Transportation will also dramatically change. During this pandemic, some individuals most likely became infected as a result of congestion in public transportation. With more artificial intelligence and robotics being adopted, it is likely that self-driving cars, in an Uber-like model where the rider does not own the vehicle, will serve as an alternative. However, to maintain sanitation, the self-driving taxi or Uber may have disinfectant technology or return to a service area for cleaning. It is also likely that ridesharing will be replaced by mega-companies like Uber which will own the entire fleet. Those losing jobs in retail and other industries could find themselves retraining to help maintain these fleets or other technologies of the future, such as food or package delivery drones. With transportation changing, energy needs will also change, with a likely environmental impact.

  • With consumer transportation being more efficient through fleet management, pollution may decrease and health may increase, fewer parking spots will be needed, and businesses will need less office space. With less commuter traffic, open spaces in the cities will change. As a result, more economic and community development, creating a need for architects, may be needed post-pandemic.

  • Physical and mental health and nutrition will also change as a result of the pandemic. The pandemic has shown the need to connect with families (and pets), both in person and via video technologies. It also has shown individuals that the production, preparation and consumption of healthy food options are not limited to cooking at home or visiting a restaurant. With generational preferences toward plant-based proteins and healthier lifestyles, it is likely that food science and production will change more rapidly in the future.

There are many other industries that will be permanently changed post-pandemic, including the media, government, home health, nursing homes and retirement communities, and retail to name a few.  During these uncertain times, our first priority is to preserve human life. However, higher education leaders need to rethink education and training in the future. We’ve been given a snapshot of the future and a foundation for the new economy. Higher education needs to reassess existing curricula, build upon online education and develop new programs and deliveries that will make us better prepared for that new economy.






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