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COVID-19 Impact Model


Given the unprecedented nature of the Coronavirus crisis, it quickly became clear that traditional assumptions and tools for strategic planning for Higher Education have become less relevant overnight and something new is needed.

Topics Challenges Approach Impacts Resources


In partnership with SHEEO, NCHEMS developed an interactive tool to help state agency staff think about and model the potential impacts of the COVID crisis on enrollments, finances, costs, completions, and affordability. A briefing paper prepared in conjunction with the tool outlines findings from the analyses made possible by this tool and presents a set of principles for states to follow when making difficult funding decisions in the wake of the COVID crisis. The paper also serves as a guide to the tool itself, including its intended use in support of resource allocation policies supplemented with example scenarios, step-by-step instructions for using the tool, and a description of its underlying assumptions.


The COVID-19 pandemic injected an unprecedented amount of uncertainty into the postsecondary education industry, making it exceedingly difficult to forecast the enrollment and fiscal impacts it has on institutions, and on affordability for students. Unfortunately, the students most vulnerable to having their educational goals derailed are those from low-income backgrounds, first-generation students, and underrepresented students of color. And the institutions that serve the largest numbers of them have been put at greater risk of facing serious financial challenges.

While the federal government has provided stimulus money that helped stave off the worst impacts of COVID, only state policymakers control resource allocation policies that are sufficiently flexible to address those disparities effectively. When the stimulus money dries up, they will have to make difficult resource allocation decisions for higher education institutions, some of which will have seen enrollment and revenue declines. A strategic response will be essential; across-the-board cuts will have differential effects in ways that are harmful to students, to institutions, and to the achievement of state goals. NCHEMS developed the COVID funding model as a rapid-response tool to help states assess the likely impact on public institutions of changing enrollment patterns, state funding levels, federal stimulus dollars, and unbudgeted spending requirements.


The COVID-19 Impact Model incorporates publicly available data into a detailed interactive tool that simulates the results of changes in enrollments among the different sectors of public institutions (public research, comprehensive, and two-year institutions). Users are able to change assumptions about enrollments—including out-of-state students—and funding levels for each sector and immediately see estimates of how those changes would impact sector-specific funding from tuition and appropriations, enrollment levels, and numbers of graduates. These analyses are sensitive to federal stimulus funding and to changes in expenditure patterns made necessary by the pandemic. Results were also developed for net prices for full-time first-time students by income level.


The COVID-19 Impact Model was developed as a service to the community and released publicly for free in its entirety. NCHEMS and SHEEO also conducted multiple webinars to present the model, provide instruction in its use, and to share the content of the accompanying brief.