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Economic Forecast: For higher education, solutions to pandemic challenges could become opportunities

In the past year, SCF put Go Live into place, an expanded online learning platform that allows students and instructors to gather virtually in real time.

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  • | 6:00 a.m. January 1, 2021
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Organization: State College of Florida, Manatee-Sarasota has campuses in Bradenton, Venice and Lakewood Ranch. In fall 2020, SCF had 9,598 students enrolled.

For institutions of higher learning, the pandemic has posed several problems — and necessitated quick solutions. President Carol Probstfeld says she’s proud of what SCF has done in 2020 to find creative solutions to challenges and ways to continue to support students. “When we had to go virtual, we did it in three days,” she says.

That meant ushering in virtual classes and virtual student services. “Every aspect of this institution has been completely focused on what can we do for students and how can we get it done in a new way,” she says.

Fall enrollment exceeded what the school budgeted, but there were some returning and adult students who didn’t come back, likely due to pandemic challenges. The school offered options for students who had lost jobs or were juggling multiple jobs or raising families. “Flex Start allowed students to start the semester at various points in the semester term,” says Probstfeld.

In the year ahead, SCF will concentrate on its core clients — students. “We want to continue to nail those opportunities for our students,” Probstfeld says. “That’s got to be where we keep our focus.”

Opportunities: Across industries, the pandemic accelerated technological shifts and advances. For many in education, that meant figuring out how to host virtual classes, among other challenges. Now, what had to be done out of necessity could continue to be part of the educational landscape. “I think for us the biggest opportunity is taking advantage of this creativity and innovation,” Probstfeld says.

In the past year, SCF put Go Live into place, an expanded online learning platform that allows students and instructors to gather virtually in real time. Offering virtual tutoring and advising was also prompted by the pandemic. “We pivoted on a dime to take student support services virtual,” Probstfeld says.

Threats: Like many organizations and businesses, SCF will have its eye toward its financial future in 2021. "We’re working legislatively to see if we can maintain our budget,” Probstfeld says. “We know there will be serious constraints at the state level.”

In general, she says higher education is struggling. “As a state college, we’re very well positioned,” Probstfeld says. “There are a lot of institutions that are not going to make it. Small liberal arts institutions have closed their doors, and institutions are re-evaluating programs. I think we’ll see a big changeup in our higher education landscape in the country.”

SCF, she says, is in a better position than some other institutions. “I’m very optimistic,” Probstfeld says. “I think we’re in a really solid place. The population is growing in our two-county region, and I have every reason to believe the college will be part of that growth.”


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