Postscript on Visualizing Fall 2020 US Higher Education Plans

Yesterday I posted some visualizations based on data from the Chronicle of Higher Education and their useful page of individual institution plans for the Fall 2020 term in US higher education. There were several commenters on that post (and on Twitter) that pointed out a significant flaw in the data set. Peter Shea captured it well:

I was looking at that Chronicle data yesterday. I think it’s misleading. I think most of the campuses that will have students returning to campus in the Fall will also have many, many more online courses and that “in-person” category needs to be far more nuanced. From my experience, campuses are planning for more online, more blended, closing earlier, and have a pivot back to remote in the works if need be, even where they are advertising “in-person”. Lumping all that under planning for in person misses the bigger picture that is reshaping higher education nationally and globally.

These commenters are correct, and in retrospect, I should have addressed this deficiency yesterday and recategorized the data before the initial post. Mea culpa.

This same issue is not new and not unique to this data set. I pointed it out here:

I doubt there will be any, or very many, fully face-to-face re-openings over the fall or even into next year. When you hear “we plan to reopen”, the safest assumption is that a school plans to introduce a hybrid model. The COVID-19 pandemic did not create hybridization, but it is fueling the acceleration of this trend.

We are now facing the reality that of the choices being considered for most institutions, the unlikeliest scenario for higher education in North America is one of offering fully face-to-face programs. There will be some exceptions, but mostly we will see a mix of delays, college closures, fully-online programs, and hybrid offerings that mix limited in-person meetings with significant online activities.

The Chronicle data are still valuable, however, and I still find the information valuable. Nor would it make sense to recode all the data before correcting. With that in mind, I think the best way to improve the data views in a timely fashion is to combine the “planning for in-person” and “proposing a hybrid model” categories into a single “planning for hybrid with some form of in-person” category.

Updated Summary Table by Sector

When looking at summary tables based on count of institution and scaling each entry by its enrollment, we can get a better sense of how the different sectors have different plans.

Updated Map Views

When looking at the geographic location of the campuses, we can see patterns of online plans on each coast. Note that the size of each bubble represents Fall 2018 enrollment.

Updated Correlation to Online Factor

I found it interesting that if you summarize the data based on the ratio of how many students took at least one online course in Fall 2018, as a measure of prior online experience, there is not an obvious positive correlation to Fall 2020 plans. If anything, there is a negative correlation where schools with more online activity are more likely to plan for a hybrid fall. 1

I also ran a summary of plans against the size of institutions by enrollment, where there is also no obvious correlation, positive or negative.

Hopefully these updated graphics avoid the categorization problem with the source data while preserving the valuable insights possible.

1 Remember that 100% online schools like Western Governors University are not in this data set