School administrative professionals in a meeting to discuss the challenges of reopening schools during a pandemic

12 Challenges Schools are Facing Before Reopening

E&I Members Share Their Insight for the Road Ahead

When COVID-19 began making headlines in early 2020, no one could have predicted the pandemic’s impact on educational institutions. Schools are facing more complex challenges than ever before, and they must rise to the occasion while adhering to evolving guidelines, tighter budgets, and limited resources.

What are the biggest challenges schools are facing in their mission to safely reopen? We asked our members in higher ed and K-12 for their insight.

1. Become more proficient at teaching and learning online and in hybrid formats.

While online classes have been a part of the education experience for several years, they will become an increasingly important aspect in this new environment. Schools will require a laundry list of hardware, software, and training to ensure seamless access and positive student experiences.

This online transition brings with it a variety of security and privacy concerns, in addition to the need to ensure that all students and teachers have access to the internet in the first place.

2. Maximize the ability to facilitate staff and faculty working remotely.

By now, most organizations have moved to some form of remote workforce. For many, this will continue for the foreseeable future. To maintain productivity and ensure success, all staff must be equipped with proper hardware and software, not to mention furniture and supplies for home offices. They also need access to IT support, communications, conferencing, document management, and payment solutions.

But that’s only part of this especially complex puzzle. Many schools need to implement eProcurement and expense management systems to manage spending, figure out how to safely deliver supplies to employees’ (and students’) homes, and offer training on productivity tools such as Zoom, Slack, and Dropbox.

3. Digitize processes across departments.

We are living in a digital age, though for many organizations, certain processes are still stuck in their analog ways. The pandemic has underscored the importance of moving to digital processes – and fast. However, for many schools making this transition across departments is not easy.

Schools must find solutions for imaging, enterprise resource planning (ERP), electronic fund transfers, digital phone switches, electronic signature software, approval processes, eProcurement, and in some instances even robotics and artificial intelligence (AI).

4. Develop new ways to support students abroad.

It may be hard to imagine now, but at some point, student travel will begin again. And it will look very different from study abroad programs of the past.

Whether welcoming students from abroad or sending students overseas, schools will need to develop new policies, secure travel insurance, obtain proper documentation and immunizations, establish duty of care procedures, arrange travel, and coordinate moving and relocation services. All while adhering to whatever new expectations arise in the post-pandemic world.

5. Rethink disaster planning.

For many schools, COVID-19 has highlighted critical gaps in their emergency preparedness plans. If left unaddressed, these gaps could exacerbate potential crises in the future, including pandemics, natural disasters, and acts of violence.

Schools must use this opportunity to rethink their disaster planning, considering what they have experienced during COVID-19 from all angles. Many will turn to consultants in disaster planning, who help organizations ensure proper preparation and contingency planning in the event of another crisis.

6. Uncover new revenue streams.

The pandemic has shaken the nation’s economy, and education has been hit – hard. Reduced enrollment, philanthropy, and investment returns, in addition to the demand for tuition reimbursement and increased spend on unplanned, last-minute supplies and equipment has left schools with significant financial gaps.

Schools must find new revenue streams in order to stay afloat. Many may be able to generate income through licensing, sponsorships, alternative financing, longer credit terms, space rentals, and even getting creative by finding alternatives to athletic and entertainment events.

7. Build a more robust supply chain.

No matter the industry, COVID-19 has created significant supply chain issues. With so many moving parts, schools rely on dependent, robust supply chains to meet the innumerable needs of their campuses or districts.

This global supply chain disruption has forced schools to reevaluate their supply chains with regard to the ideal number of suppliers in their contract portfolios, the benefits of domestic versus overseas suppliers, safe delivery procedures, and – especially when preparing to reopen – the optimal stock levels of personal protective equipment (PPE), lab supplies, and other critical items.

8. Explore ways to reduce expenses.

While most schools had already been working under tight budgets, the pandemic has significantly increased the financial pressure on higher ed and K-12 institutions of all sizes. Finding ways to reduce expenses is perhaps more important than ever.

Cooperative purchasing is a proven way to cut costs by using competitively solicited contracts. Other methods to consider could be be servicing, repairing, or renting equipment instead of buying new, exploring process automation, negotiating new pricing and/or terms for contracts, and outsourcing certain functions to find efficiencies.

9. Prepare for a return to campus life.

Whether the plan is to reopen this fall, next year, or somewhere in between, schools offering in-person classes must be able to assure students, faculty, administration, and parents that all necessary steps and precautions have been taken to provide for a safe learning environment.

This challenge is perhaps one of the most complex, with so many moving parts. Schools must find solutions for PPE, sanitizing and cleaning, air treatment, social distancing, health centers, dining halls, transportation… and with campuses being entire communities and ecosystems of their own, that’s just the beginning.

10. Get athletics programs up and running.

Not only are athletics programs a key aspect of the student experience, but they can also represent significant revenue sources for schools. How can schools get their programs back up and running while keeping athletes, coaches, staff, and spectators safe?

The fact is that schools need to re-evaluate their athletics programs and the facilities used for training and fitness. These facilities may need to be reconfigured or repurposed to promote social distancing, and regular sanitization is a must. Testing and supplies should also be readily available. And because no sporting event is complete without food and drinks, how can schools safely offer concession services?

11. Repurpose common spaces on campus.

The need for social distancing will require schools to reconfigure familiar spaces. Classrooms, residence halls, dining halls, athletic facilities, labs, common areas… most spaces will need to be re-evaluated to ensure everyone on campus is protected from any potential virus spread.

To achieve this, schools may consider new construction, renovations, and redesigns. Many must look at the layout of these spaces to determine the best use of space, which will most likely involve new or refurbished furniture and furnishings, barriers, and other solutions that will help keep inhabitants safe.

12. Reposition messaging for the future.

The way in which an organization communicates to its audience is key, and this is especially important during times of crisis. Many schools are looking to reposition themselves in response to the pandemic and need to revise their messaging to current and potential students, parents, alumni, and other constituencies.

Brand and marketing experts are available to help schools attract and retain students while establishing differentiating factors to separate a school from its competition. And at a time when attracting new students – and therefore new revenue – is crucial, having this messaging in place is incredibly important.

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About the Author

E&I Cooperative Services is the only member-owned, non-profit sourcing cooperative exclusively focused on serving the education community. And because it’s our sole focus, we are uniquely equipped with the knowledge, experience, and passion to meet the specialized needs of educational procurement.


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