The Economic Model of Higher Education Was Already Broken. Here’s Why the Pandemic May Destroy It for Good

Virus Outbreak-Ohio Schools

Logan Armstrong, a Cincinnati junior, works while sitting inside a painted circle on the lawn of the Oval during the first day of fall classes on at Ohio State University on Aug. 25, 2020.

Karabell is an author, investor, and commentator. He is the president of River Twice Research. His forthcoming book is Inside Money: Brown Brothers Harriman and the American Way of Power.

With the fall semester upon us, colleges and universities unveiled their plans for students—and many are just as quickly upending those plans. The University of North Carolina and Notre Dame recently announced they were changing their on campus plans as COVID-19 cases spiked. Many other universities are sure to follow. Already, universities ranging from Syracuse to Ohio State are suspending hundreds of students for violating social distancing rules, while COVID-19 outbreaks are on the rise on campuses such as the University of Alabama. While there is considerable variety in the actual plans, ranging from mostly in-person to all virtual, they all share one imperative: to maintain an economic model that is as imperiled by the pandemic as the hardest hit service industries.

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