Universities Face Dire Financial Risks During COVID-19. So Do Parents and College-Aged Students Who Make the Wrong Choices

By: | June 5, 2020

John (Jack) Hampton is a Professor of Business at St. Peter’s University, a core faculty member at the International School of Management (Paris), and a Risk Insider at Risk and Insurance magazine where he was named a 2018 All Star. He was Executive Director of the Risk and Insurance Management Society (RIMS), dean of the schools of business at Seton Hall and Connecticut State universities, and provost of the College of Insurance and SUNY Maritime College in New York City.

“Every year, many, many stupid people graduate from college. And if they can do it, so can you.” — John Green, author and YouTube activist

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The quote reminds me of my college days, when I worked for two summers as a busboy at the Hotel Fremont in Las Vegas. I met a man who had a winning strategy when playing craps.

His advice at the dice table was: “Just watch and see what’s happening. At the craps table, the dice will either run hot, cold or mixed. The secret is to bet with a player when he’s hot, against him when he’s cold and avoid betting completely when the dice run mixed.”

Even as a kid, I knew this was no strategy at all.

The hot, cold or mixed possibility is facing parents and students planning for September 2020. The Chronicle of Higher Education publishes a weekly list of college intentions for opening in the fall. As this is being written, the list contains just over 700 institutions. The list is supposed to help parents, students and professors make decisions.

Don’t waste your time checking the list. Colleges are not facing a risk; it’s an uncertainty. A college will either open on campus, open online or do something else. One hundred percent. I guarantee it. I’m a professional.

To make plans for the next academic year, parents and students should check out how colleges responded to the COVID-19 viral infection. Who most abruptly converted courses from in-person to online in the middle of the 2020 spring term? How did they do it?

Deal with specifics. Let’s say you or your child has been accepted at three colleges. The question to ask each college is, “Did you give students the option to change to a pass/fail grade if they were afraid the virus would harm their grade point average?”

How did each college respond? In the sense of the dice running hot, cold or mixed, the answer will be yes, no or something else.

  • School #1: “No. We don’t lower our standards and we won’t lower them in the future.”
  • School #2: “Yes. All students could choose pass/fail for a course up to the day before the final exam by submitting a request form approved by an advisor, department chair and college dean. After requesting pass/fail, the decision cannot be reversed.”
  • School #3: “Yes. A student could finish a course. After receiving a low grade, we would change it to pass/fail at the student’s request.”

Now, you have useful information. This is what you have learned:

  • School #1: Has either high academic standards or “rules are rules.” Which is it? Further investigation needed.
  • School #2: Attempts to be helpful within limits. Does not care about a nervous student whose fear of a low grade would deprive him/her of a deserved “A.” Not to mention, how do you find an advisor, department chair and dean to approve your form on the last day before a final exam in the midst of a crisis?
  • School #3: Gives a student a choice to earn a grade but avoid harm to a grade point average during a turbulent period. How thoughtful.
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From these answers, you would have useful information. Now the elephant in the room.

Should the student take a gap year, go to a low-cost community college for a while and transfer to a 4-year program, or forget about college entirely for the moment?

This nightmare scenario for private nonprofit colleges is a straight-forward risk management decision for parents and students.

  • Acknowledge simple realities. A college degree gives most adults an advantage in life. Colleges will reopen or not in the fall. Finances may be an issue for your family.
  • Recognize the value of a degree. Will the student improve critical thinking and refine a value system? Will the student check off 120 credits and get a degree? Will the student do both?
  • Get the right information. The pass/fail answers tell you more than the recruiting brochure. Ask the right questions.

Remember the gambler who knew the dice ran “hot, cold or mixed?” Useless information for deciding how to bet. Don’t bet at all in Las Vegas. The odds were stacked in favor of the casino. He couldn’t win. He was flat broke when he died.

This does not have to be the fate of today’s students. John Green is right about stupid people graduating from college. Don’t be stupid. College is not a gamble. It’s an investment. It just requires good risk management to make the right college choice. &

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