The impact of the coronavirus epidemic on higher education has been swift. The outbreak has already upended conference schedules and athletic events, and institutions have begun to cancel classes and move them online. It is forcing colleges to consider large-scale preventative measures to keep students and faculty healthy, as well as to create plans for when infections do materialize on their campus. Institutions are also grappling with the impact on exchange programs and international students. Colleges and universities will continue to have to deal with these and a series of other deep and complex challenges in the near term.
The real danger, however, may be lurking in the long-term fallout from the epidemic. Years of budget cuts and the failure to address basic student needs make higher education particularly vulnerable and potentially unequipped to deal with a crisis like this. It’s crucial that the U.S. Congress and the Department of Education act swiftly and aggressively and provide states and institutions with much-needed support before it’s too late.