Colleges and universities are bracing for significant disruptions to their day-to-day operations because of COVID-19 or Coronavirus. (Read more: Boston Globe, Wall Street Journal)

For example, a growing list of American universities have canceled study abroad programs as the novel coronavirus continues to spread (CNN, Washington Post) and the CDC has issued Guidance for Student Foreign Travel for Institutions of Higher Education, suggesting that institutions should consider postponing or canceling student foreign exchange programs.

In addition to short-term impacts, disruptions to international student enrollment and preparedness, as well as research collaborations and other internationalization programs, could have long-term effects on college campuses. (Read more: Times Higher Ed, Inside Higher Ed).

Colleges and universities are also readying communications plans, cautioning students to use preventive health measures, and even preparing for possible college closures. Some best practices include:

  1. Making preparations early. As the fear increases that colleges and universities will be the front line of this disease, senior leaders have the opportunity to focus on their communication, crisis and contingency plans. Asking questions like: What do we do if we have to quarantine students? What do we do if we have to close campus? Are we prepared to transition to online classes? Marshall your internal resources and brainstorm potential scenarios -- especially the ones you hope never happen [Read more: CDC Guidance].
  2. Don’t add to the panic. Provide regular, accurate information that points to credible resources like the CDC’s website and your health center, and be specific about your institution’s risk level.
  3. Communicate regularly to relevant audiences, including faculty and staff, students, parents and families.
  4. Seek help and guidance from community partners. The virus has already impacted -- and will continue to impact -- communities, so working with your internal team but also community partners will help you all prepare more thoroughly.

A robust communications plan will be key as higher ed communities prepare for a potential pandemic.



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