Pandemic Accelerates Looming Challenges for Higher Education Institutions, TIAA and EY-Parthenon Research Reveals

Higher Ed leaders convene to discuss creative solutions to address financial and operational challenges

NEW YORK, October 20, 2020 – According to a new white paper released today by TIAA and EY-Parthenon, COVID-19 has created new financial and operational challenges for higher education institutions and has accelerated the impact of long-standing demographic, organizational and economic trends on the higher education sector.

The white paper, entitled "The new normal: Higher education in a post-COVID-19 world", was the focus of a panel at the TIAA Institute Virtual Higher Education Symposium in which leaders from Bucknell University, Rutgers University and St. Olaf College shed light on how institutions can adapt to their new realities and ensure higher education remains attractive for future generations of students.

"The COVID-19 pandemic is rapidly transforming the higher education industry. While the challenges vary among institutions, leaders are finding ways to adapt and address the needs of current and prospective students," said Christina Cutlip, Senior Managing Director, Head of Client Engagement & National Advocacy at TIAA. "At TIAA, we are committed to helping higher education leaders navigate this new reality so they can continue to create spaces for young people to develop valuable skills and grow into exceptional citizens."

The virtual event, hosted by the TIAA Institute on Friday, October 16, featured a discussion about the current challenges facing the higher education sector and the impact of the pandemic on human, financial, physical, and reputational capital for institutions of all sizes. The conversation touched on several trends, including a renewed emphasis on diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) practices, greater reliance on an institution’s core mission, and faster and more agile decision-making processes. Participants also discussed:

  • Imagining the evolution and future of institutions: Higher education institutions will need to be agile as they adapt to the shifting environment, meet students' and faculty's evolving needs, and provide safe and equitable spaces that foster growth. Achieving a desired future state requires revisiting institutions' value propositions and considering a sharpened focus on mission-critical programming that aligns with their goals. This may mean cutting non-essential areas of study, providing flexible hybrid and online curriculum, building interdisciplinary schools, or offering shorter degree pathways and certificate programs that align with the future workforce. 
  • Flexing human and financial capital: As institutions evolve, they may need to align their human and financial resources to new priorities. This may mean redeploying employees into new areas that align with their talents and campus needs and renewing focus on DEI initiatives, including recruiting diverse faculty through non-traditional job markets and ensuring new hires match their institutions' DEI values. It will also be important for institutions to think beyond traditional 12-month budget cycles. The pandemic has made it apparent that in some cases, short-term budget planning and liquidity is needed. However, maintaining a focus on financial decisions that have long-term benefits over a 3 to 5-year time horizon, as higher education adjusts to a new normal, will be necessary for strategic and intentional planning.
  • Engaging strategic partners: Institutions are considering new or expanded ways to work with outside partners. Examples include implementing wellness programs that help students and faculty avoid burnout and manage remote lifestyles or building curricula that provide new pathways for local corporations to hire students. As institutions revisit their value propositions, they might also consider outsourcing less-mission critical priorities to strategic partners.

"The pandemic has accelerated existing headwinds in higher education," said Haven Ladd, Principal, EY-Parthenon, Ernst & Young LLP. "Leaders across the sector have a unique opportunity to drive institutional transformation, both near- and long-term. COVID-19 may well usher in a new era of higher education, one that is defined by agile thinking, holistic planning and a renewed commitment to the sector's deep financial and social purpose."

"The new normal: Higher education in a post-COVID-19 world"Opens in a new window report can be found here.

About TIAA 

With an award-winning1 track record for consistent investment performance, TIAA ( is the leading provider of financial services in the academic, research, medical, cultural and government fields. TIAA has $1.1 trillion in assets under management (as of 6/30/20202) and offers a wide range of financial solutions, including investing, banking, advice and education, and retirement services.

About the EY-Parthenon Education Practice

EY-Parthenon Education professionals have an explicit mission and vision to be the leading strategy advisors to the global education industry. To achieve this, significant investment is made in dedicated management and team resources so that the global EY-Parthenon education experience extends across public sector and nonprofit education providers, foundations, for-profit companies and service providers and investors. EY-Parthenon professionals have deep experience and a track record of consistent success in working closely with universities, colleges, states, districts, and leading educational reform and service organizations across the globe.

Press contact

Lauren Post
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1 The Refinitiv Lipper Fund Awards are based on the Lipper Leader for Consistent Return rating, which is a risk-adjusted performance measure calculated over 36, 60 and 120 months. Lipper Leaders fund ratings do not constitute and are not intended to constitute investment advice or an offer to sell or the solicitation of an offer to buy any security of any entity in any jurisdiction. For more information, see Lipper Fund Awards from Refinitiv, ©2020 Refinitiv. All rights reserved. Used under license. The Award is based on a review of risk-adjusted performance of 39 companies for 2016, 36 for 2017, 35 for 2018 & 2019, and 30 for 2020. The award pertains only to the TIAA-CREF mutual funds in the mixed-asset category. Without such waivers ratings could be lower. Past performance does not guarantee future results. For current performance, rankings and prospectuses, please visit

2 Based on $1.1 trillion of assets under management across Nuveen affiliates and TIAA investment management teams as of 6/30/20.